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Copyright, igi^i hy 
Frederick A. Stokes Company 

All rights reserved, incliiding that of translation 
into foreign languages. 

APR 25 1917 


To M T 

these Live Fruits 

Jrom the Withered Garden 

X 1 



I, Mary MacLane 

A crucible of my own making 


IT is the edge of a somber July night in this 
The sky is overcast. The nearer mountains 
are gray-melancholy. 
And at this point I meet Me face to face. 
I am Mary MacLane: of no importance to the 
wide bright world and dearly and damnably im- 
portant to Me. 

Face to face I look at Me with some hatred, with 
despair and with great intentness. 
I put Me in a crucible of my own making and set 
it in the flaming trivial Inferno of my mind. And 
I assay thus: 

I am rare — I am in some ways exquisite. 
I am pagan within and without. 
I am vain and shallow and false. 
I am a specialized being, deeply myself. 
I am of woman-sex and most things that go with 
that, wit|i some other pointes. 
I am dynamic but devasted, laid waste in spirit. 
Fm like a leopard and Tm like a poet and Vm like 


A crucible of my own making 

a religieuse and Fm like an outlaw. 
I have a potent weird sense of humor — a saving 
and a demorahzing grace. 

I have brain, cerebration — not powerful but fine 
and of a remarkable quality. 
I am scornful-tempered and I am brave. 
I am slender in body and someway fragile and firm- 
fleshed and sweet. 

I am oddly a fool and a strange complex liar and a 
spiritual vagabond. 

I am strong, individual in my falseness: wavering, 
faint, fanciful in my truth. 
I am eternally self-conscious but sincere in it. 
I am ultra-modern, very old-fashioned: savagely 

I am young, but not very young. 
1 am wistful — I am infamous. 
In brief, I am a human being. 

I am presciently and analytically egotistic, with 
some arresting dead-feeling genius. 
And were I not so tensely tiredly sane I would say 
that I am mad. 

So assayed I begin to write this book of myself, to 
show to myself in detail the woman who is inside 
me. It may or it mayn't show also a type, a uni- 
versal Eve-old woman. If it is so it is not my 
purport. I sing only the Ego and the individual. 

A crucible of my own making 

So does in secret each man and woman and child 
who breathes, but is afraid to sing it aloud. And 
mostly none knows it is that he does sing. But it 
is the only strength of each. A bishop serving 
truly and tirelessly the poor of his diocese serves 
a strong vanity and ideal of the Ego in himself. 
A starving sculptor who lives in and for his own 
dreams is an Egotist equally with the bishop. And 
both are Egotists equally with me. 
Egotist, not egoist, is my word: it and not the 
idealized one is the * winged word.' 
It is made of glow and gleam and splendor, that 
Ego. I would be its votary. 

So I write me this book of Me — my Soul, my Heart, 
my sentient Body, my magic Mind: their poten- 
tialities and contradictions. 

— there is a Self in each human one which lives and 
has its sweet vain someway-frightful being not in 
depths and not in surfaces but Just Beneath The 
Skin. It is the Self one keeps for oneself alone. 
It is the Essence of soul and bones. It is the slyest 
subtlest thing in human scope. It is the loneliest: 
tragically lonely. It is long, long isolation — 
beautiful, terrifying, barbarous, shameful, trivial to 
points of madness, ever-present, infinitely intriguing 
to oneself, passionately hidden: hidden forever and 
forever — 

A crucible oj my own making 

It is my aim to write out that in the pages of this 
Me-book: no depths save as they come up and touch 
that, no surfaces save as they sink skin-deep. Only 
the flat unglowing bloody Self Just Beneath My 

I shall fail in it, partly because my writing skill is 
unequal to some nicenesses in the task, but mostly 
because I am not very honest even with myself, 
ril come someway near it. 

Half inevitably, balj by choice 


HALF INEVITABLY, half by choice, I write 
this book now. 
I am at a lowering impatient shoulder- 
shrugging life-point where I must express myself or 
lose myself or break. 
And I am quite alone as I live my life. 
And I am unhappy — a scornful unhappiness not of 
bitter positive grief which admits of engulfing 
luxuries of sorrow, but of muffled unrests and 
tortures of knowing I fit in nowhere, that I drift — 
drift — and it brings an unbearable dread, always 
more and more dread, into days and into wakeful 
And writing it turns the brunt of it a little away 

from me. 

And to write is the thing I most love to do. 
And I myself am the most immediate potent topic 
I can find in my knowledge to write on: the biggest, 
the littlest, the broadest, the narrowest, the loveliest, 
the hatefulest, the most colorful, the most drab, the 
most mystic, the most obvious, and the one that 
takes me farthest as a writer and as a person. 
I write myself when I write the thoughts smoulder- 
ing in me whether they be of Death, of Roses, of 
Christ's Mother, of Ten-penny Nails. 

Half inevitablyy half by choice 

One's thoughts are one's most crucial adventures. 
Seriously and strongly and intently to contemplate 
doing murder is everyway more exciting, more 
romantic, more profoundly tragic than the murder 

I unfold myself in accursed and precious written 
thoughts. I cast the reflections of my inner selves 
on the paper from the insolent mirror of my Mind. 
— my Mind — it is so free — 

My Soul is not free: God hung a string of curses, 
like a little manacling chain, round its neck long 
and long ago. Always I feel it. My Heart is not 
free for it is dead: in a listless way and a trivial 
way, dead. And my Body — it is free but has a 
seeming of something wasted and useless like a 
dinner spread out on a table uneaten and growing 

— but my free Mind — 

Though I were shut fast in a prison: though I were 
strapped in an electric chair: though I were gnawed 
and decayed by leprosy: I still could think, with 
thoughts free as gold-drenched outer air, thoughts 
delicate-luminous as young dawn, thoughts facile, 
seductive, speculative, artful, evil, sly, sublime. 
You might cut off my two hands: but you could 
not keep me from remembering the Sad Gray Loveli- 
ness of the Sea when the Rain beats, beats, beats 

Half inevitably, half by choice 

upon it. 

You might admonish me by driving a red-hot spike 
between my two white shoulders : but you could not 
by that influence my Thoughts — you could not so 
much as change their current. 

I am intently aware of my Mind from moment to 
moment — all the passing life-moments. The aware- 
ness is a troubled power, a heavy burden and a 
wild enchantment. — 
Also what I feel I write. 

I am my own law, my own oracle, my own one inti- 
mate friend, my own guide though I guide me to dead- 
walls, my own mentor, my own foe, my own lover. 
I am in age one-and-thirty, a smouldering-flamed 
period which feels the wings of the Youth-bird 
beating strong and violent for flight — half-ready to 
fly away. 

I am not a charming person. Quite seventy singly- 
used adjectives would better fit me. 
But I have some charm of youth, and a charm of 
sex, and a charm of inteflect and intuition, and 
some charms of personality. 

I have a perfervid appreciation of those things in 
other persons. And my steel has sometime struck 
fire from their flint. 

But always my steel has turned back drearily yet 
strongly to itself. 

8 A twisted moral 


IF I should meet God to know and speak to the 
first thing but one I should ask him would be, 
*What was your idea, God, in making me?' 
I can believe he had some Purpose in it. 
I'm in most ways a devilish person. There's seven- 
fold more evil than good in me. It is evil of a mixed 
and menacing kind, the kind that goes dressed in 
brave and beauty-tinted clothes and is sane and 
sound. While^the good in me is ill and forlorn and 
nervously afraid — a something of tear-blurred eyes 
and trembling fingers. 

Yet God has made many things less plausible than 
me. He has made sharks in the ocean, and people 
who hire children to work in their mills and mines, 
and poison ivy and zebras — 

— and he has made besides a Wonder of things: 
Thin Pink Mountain Dawns, Young English Poets, 
Hydrangeas in the sudden Blue of their first Bloom, 
human Singing Voices, — more things, always more — 
When I think of them all a joyous thrill breaks over 
me like a little frenzied wave. It is delirium-of-bliss 
to feel oneself living though shadows be pitch-black. 
God has a Purpose in making everything, I think. 
I am half-curious about the Purpose that goes with 
me. He might have made me for his own amuse- 

A twisted moral 9 

ment. He might have made me to discipline my 

Soul with some blights and goads or to punish it for 

bacchanalian ease and pleasure in the long-distant 

centuries-old past. He might have made me to 

season or scourge other lives, as I may touch them, 

with Mary-Mac-Lane-ness. He might have made 

me to point a twisted moral. 

I muse about it with doubts. 

But if I knew my Purpose I belike would not swerve 

a hair's-breadth from my own course which is an 

unhallowedly selfish one. 

If I could myself see a way of truth I would walk in 

it. I have it in me to worship. 1 long to worsnip. 

And I am game, wearily and coldly game: when 

I start I go on through to the end. 

But I see no way of truth — none for me. And God 

is eternally absent and reticent. So I go on in the 

way where I find myself. And muse about it. And 

damn it faintly as I make nothing of it. 

10 Everyday and to-morrow 


ALOOFLY I live in this Butte in the outward 
/—X role of a family daughter with no responsi- 
'^ ^ bilities. 

This Butte is an incongruous living-place for me. 
And I have not one human friend in it — no kindli- 
ness. And Nature in her perplexingest mood would 
not of herself have cast me as a family daughter. 
Three things have kept me thus for four years past: 
that nothing has called me out of it: a slight family 
pressure like a tiny needle-point which pierces only 
if one moves : and to stay thus is presently the line 
of least resistance. 

Unless impelled to violent action by a violent rea- 
son — hke love or hatred or jealousy or a baby or 
humiliated pride or rowelling ambition — a woman 
follows the physical line of least resistance. I have 
followed it these years with outward acquiescence 
and inward rages — languid rages which lay me waste. 
The years and acquiescences and rages have built 
up a mood which compasses me, drives me, damns 
me and lifts me up. 

It is a forceful mood, though I am not myself forceful. 
This mood is this book. — 

I live an immoral life. It is immoral because it is 
deadly futile. All my Tissues of body, soul, mind 

Everyday and to-morrow 1 1 

and heart are wasting, decaying, wearing down, 
minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day: with 
no return to me or to my Hfe, nor to anything human 
or divine. 

It makes me dread my life and myself. 
I do not quite know why. 

But to be an ardent pickpocket or an eager harlot 
would feel honester. 

My Everyday goes like this: I waken in the morn- 
ing and lie listless some minutes with drooping 
eyelids. I look at a gilt-and-blue bar of morning 
light which slants palely in at one window and at 
a melting-gold triangle of sun which shows at the 
other window on the red brick wall of the house 
next to this. Then I say * another day,' and I 
kick off bed-covers with one foot and slide out of 
my narrow bed, and into blue slippers, and out of a 
thin nightgown, and into peignoir or bathrobe. 
I twist and flatten and gather up my tangled hair 
and push some amber pins through it. And I go 
into a respectable green-and-gray bathroom and 
draw a bath and get into it. I splash in brief swift 
soapsuds, and go under a sudden heroic icy cold 
shower, and dry me with a scourging towel. Then 
I go back into the blue-white bed-room and get into 
clothes, feminine thin under-garments and a nun- 
like frock. 

12 Everyday and to-morrow 

I look in my mirror. Some days I'm a delicately 
beautiful girl. Other days I'm a very plain woman. 
One's physical attractiveness is a matter of one's 
mental chemistry. 

I say to Me in the mirror, *It's you-and-me, Mary 
MacLane, and another wasting damning To-morrow. 
"To-morrow and to-morrow and to-morrow 

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day."' 
A haunting decadence is in that To-morrow thought. 
And always the To-morrow thought comes out of 
my morning mirror. I dwell on it awhile, till my 
gray eyes and my lips and my teeth and my forehead 
are tired of it, and make nothing new of it. 
I jerk the flat scollop of hair at one side of my fore- 
head and turn away. I open door and windows 
wider for the blowing-through of breezes. And I 
wander down-stairs. It is half-after nine or half- 
after ten. I go into the clean empty clock-ticking 
kitchen and cook my breakfast. It is a task full of 
hungry plaisance and pleasantness. I make a Brit- 
ish-feeling breakfast of tea and marmalade and little 
squares of toast and pink-and-tan rashers of bacon 
and two delightful eggs. Up to the moment of 
broaching the eggs the morning has an ancient same- 
ness with other mornings. But eggs, though I've 
eaten them every day for quite five-and-twenty 
years, are always a fascinating novelty. 

Everyday and to-morrow 13 

They are delicious in my breakfast. So are the 
squares of toast and the bacon-rashers and the tea 
and marmalade. When I've done with them I lay 
down my napkin by my cup, light a cigarette, breathe 
a puff or two from it and feel contentedly aware that 
my brain has gone to rest in sweet tranquillity with 
my breakfast. When my brain is in my head it 
analyzes the soul out of my body, the gleam out of 
my gray eyes, the savor out of my life, the human 
taste off my tongue. That post-breakfast moment 
is the only peace-moment I know in my day and in 
my life. 

Having puffed away the cigarette and read bits of a 
morning paper I then prove me arrantly middle- 
class by contemplating washing my breakfast dishes. 
I am middle-class, quite, from the Soul outward. 
But it is not specially apparent — one's tastes and 
aspirations flit garbledly far and wide. But a 
tendency to wash one's dishes after eating one's 
breakfast feels conclusively and pleasantly middle- 
class. Not that I do always wash them, but always 
I think of it with the inclination to do it. 
I sit on the shaded front veranda in the summer 
noon-day and look away south at the blue Highlands, 
ever snow-peaked: or east at the near towering 
splendid grim wall of the arid Rockies which 
separates this Butte from New York, from London, 

14 Everyday and to-morrow 

— ^the Spain-castles — the Pyramids — the Isle of 
Lesbos: or south-west beyond house-tops at some 
foothills above which hangs a fairy veil made by 
melting together a Lump of Gold and an Apricot 
and spreading it thin. 

Then restlessly I go into the house and up to my 
room. I put it in order — in prim, prim immaculate 
order. One marked phase of mine is of some wanton 
creature — a maenad, a mental Amazon, a she-imp. 
But playing opposite to that is another — that of a 
New-England spinster steel-riveted to certain neat 
ferociously-orderly habits. A stray thread on my 
blue rug hurts, hurts me until I pick it up. Dust 
around my room gives me a nervous pain, a piteous 
gnawing grief-of-the-senses, until I've removed it. 
And my chastened-Iooking bed — after I've turned 
over its tufted mattress and *made' it, smooth and 
white and crisp and soft — how the fibers of me would 
writhe should anyone sit on it. But no one sits on it. 
And I myself sooner than press one fmger-tip down 
into its perfectness would sell my body to a Balkan 
soldier for four dimes : it is that way I feel about it. 
My bed miLSt be kept perfect till the moment I slip 
into it at night to float under the dream-worlds. 
Then maybe I pull a soft black hat down over my 
hair and draw on gloves and go out into the gray- 
paved streets for a longish walk. Or maybe the day 

Everyday and to-morrow 15 

is humidly hot. Then I don't go but stay in the 
blue-white room and mend a bit of torn lingerie or 
a handkerchief or a silk stocking or a petticoat. 
Or I take books and dig out some Greek — Homer or 
a Sapphic fragment — very laboriously but marvel- 
ling that I can do it at all: the first things one forgets 
being the last things one learned at school. Or I 
read an English or a French philosopher, or a trans- 
lated Tolstoi, or a bit of Balzac novel, or some bits 
of Dickens-books with which latter I am long 
famihar and long enamored for the restful falseness 
of their sentiment and the pungent appetizing charm 
of their villains. 

And betweenwhiles I think and think. 
Then it's dinnertime and I perhaps change into the 
other nunlike dress, and nibble some dinner with no 
appetite, and talk with the assembled small family 
in a vein and tone of life-long insincerity. When 
in family-circle-ness I've had to hide my true self 
as if behind a hundred black veils since the age of 
two years. It would be a poignant effort now to 
show any of it at the family dinners, which is the 
only meeting-time. The one easy way is to be 
comprehensively insincere at the dinners where 
with no appetite I nibble. None there wants my 
sincerity, and so in my Soul's accounting now it is 
eternally and determinedly No Matter. It is a little 

1 6 Everyday and to-morrow 

bell which stopped ringing long and long ago. If it 
rang now it would ring only No-Matter, No-Matter. 
Then it's night and I go to take the walk I didn't 
take in the afternoon. I walk down long lonely 
streets. Long lonely thoughts pile into me and 
through me and wrap me in a nebula that I can feel 
around me like a mantle. I walk two or three miles 
of paved streets till I'm very tired. I am lithe but 
fragile from constant involuntary self-analysis. 
One may analyze one's life-experience and life- 
emotion till physical tissues at times grow frail, 
gossamer-thin. It is then as if — at a word, a 
whispered thought, a beat of the heart — one's Soul 
might flutter through the Veil, join light hands with 
the death-angel and flee away. 

— but I love my life even while I analyze it bit by 
bit and so hate it. I love it in its grating monotones 
and its moments of glow and its days of shadow 
and storm and bitterish lowering passion — 
I walk back beneath a night sky of dusky velvet-blue 
decked with jewels of moon and star and flying 
bright-edged cloud. The night has a subdued 
preciousness, like an illicitly pregnant woman's. 
It is big with the bastard-exquisite To-morrow. 
The night air kisses my lips and throat. I pull ofi* 
my gloves to feel it on my hands. It gives me a 
charmed and unexciting feeling of being caressed 

Everyday and to-morrow 17 

without being loved. 

I come back to my blue-white room, take off my 
hat, rufHe my fingers through my hair, look at Me in 
the mirror and smile the melancholy wicked smile 
which I keep for Me-alone. It's an intimate moment 
of greeting — a recognition of my Familiar on coming 
back to her. Often when I walk I go without Me, 
and wander far from Me, and forget Me. 
Then I sit at my flat black desk and write desultorily 
for two or three or four hours. Sometimes a letter, 
sometimes some verses or a hectic fancy in staid 
prose. But now mostly this. 

Then I go downstairs to a refrigerator or a cellar- way 
to find food — a slice off" an aff'able cold joint, some 
chaste-looking slices of bread, a slim innocent onion. 
And I eat them, not relishingly but voraciously, 
reminding myself of a lean foraging furtive coyote. 
It is two or three or four in the morning. I smoke a 
quiet cigarette in a cool night doorway and count 
the nervous gray-velvet moths outside the screen. 
And all the while I think and think. 
Then I come up to my room and sit on the floor by 
my low bookcase and read some last-century English 
poets — ^the Brownings and Shelley and the un- 
speakable John Keats. The Poets make me a space 
of incalescent magic and loveliness. They are the 
beings blest of a flaming Heaven. In the midst of 

1 8 Everyday and to-morrow 

soddenest earthiness their fiery wings * pierce the 
night. ' 

Then Fm thrilledly tired. I close the books and 
make ready for my bed in a lyric-feeling languor. 
A soft soothing unsnapping of whalebone stays: 
a muffled rhythmic undoing of metal-and-silk-rubber 
garters : a pushing down and sliding out of daytime 
clothes and into a thin pale cool silk nightgown: 
a hurried brushing of hair: an anointing of hands 
and throat with faint-scented cream: a goodnight 
to Me in the mirror: a last wave of a fateful thing — 
my life-essence — casual and determined and con- 
temptuous and menacing — sweeping down over me 
in an invisible shower: and Tm betwixt smooth 
linen sheets. 

In twenty seconds blest, blest sleep. 
Of such wide littleness is my day made. One day 
will differ from another in this or that volcanic mole- 
hill. And some days I not only wash a great many 
dishes but do a deal of housework neatly and self- 
satisfactorily and like a devilish scullery maid. 
And some days as I move in the petty pace thoughts 
and feelings sweet or barbarous come and change 
my world's face in a moment. 

Also a casual human being of rabbitish brain and 
chipmunkish sensibility may stray across my path 
and gently bore me and accentuate my own pagan- 

Everyday and to-morrow 19 


But always the same days in restless dubious To- 


Always immorally futile. 

And eerily alone. 

20 A mathematic dead-wall 


I'M put to it to decide whether God loves me or 
hates me when he sets me down alone. 
There are times when my Loneliness is a charmed 
and scintillant and resourceful Loneliness with a 
strange and ecstatic gleam in it. The miracle of 
being a person rushes upon and about and into me 
*with lightning and with music' 
One loses that in a day of many friendships. 
But oftener are times when the tired, tired heart 
and the weary, weary brain beat-beat, beat-beat to 
anguished torturing self-rhythms. The spirit of me 
closes its eyes in turbulent dusks of wondering and 
wishing and leans its forehead against a mathematic 
dead-wall. And it prays — blind useless unhumble 
prayers which leave it dry and destitute, arid, 
unspeakably lacking. But when it lifts its head and 
opens its eyes there are the melting mauves and 
maroons of a dead sun across the evening sky, and 
the small far wistful flames of always-hopeful stars. 
— they make it matter less whether God loves or 
hates me, but I still wish I knew. 

My neat blue chair 2i 


I SUPPOSE there's nothing quite peculiar to even 
my inmost self in what I ponder and what I 
experience and what I feel. 
My only elemental *differentness' is that I find it 
and write it. 

But I used to think at eighteen — those thrice-fired 
adolescent moments — that only I suffered, only I 
reached achingly out into the mists, only I tasted 
new-bloomed life-petals intolerably sweet and bitter 
on my lips. 

The egotism of youth is merciless, measureless, 
endlessly vulnerable. Youth plays on itself as one 
plays on a little dulcimer, with music as sweet, but 
with a crude cruel recklessness which jerks and 
breaks the strings. 

I have got by that stage of egotism. But Fve 
entered on another wilder, more lawless — farther- 
seeing if less be-visioned. 

While I sit here this midnight in a Neat Blue Chair 
in this Butte-Montana for what I know a legion- 
women of my psychic breed may be sitting lonely 
in neat red or neat blue or neat gray or neat any- 
colored chairs — in Wichita-Kansas and South Bend- 
Indiana and Red Wing-Minnesota and Portland- 
Maine and Rochester-New York and Waco-Texas 

22 My neat blue chair 

and La Crosse-Wisconsin and Bowling Green- 
Kentucky: each feeling Herself set in a wrong 
niche, caught in a tangle of Kttle vapidish cross- 
purpose: each waiting, waiting always — waiting all 
her life — not hopeful and passionate like Eighteen 
but patient or blasphemous or scornful or volcanic 
like Early-Thirty: the waiting-sense giving to each 
a personal quality big and suggestive and nurturing 
— and with it a long-accustomed feeling hke a thin 
bright blade stuck deep in her breast: each more or 
less roundly hating Waco-Texas and Portland- 
Maine and Red Wing-Minnesota and the other 
places: and each beset by hot unquiet humannesses 
inside her and an old yearn of sex and the blood 
warring with myriad minute tenets dating from 
civilization's dawn-times. 

But though I am of that psychic breed no little 
tenets war in me. 

It's as if a prelate and a wood-nymph had fathered 
and mothered me: making me of a ridiculous 
poignant conscience and of no human traditions. 
I am free of innate conventionalities, free as a 
wildcat on a twilight hill. I am free of them as I 
sit here, quiet-looking in my plain black dress. 
The virile Scotch-Canadian curl is brushed and 
brushed out of my hair to make it lie smooth and 
discreet over my ears and forehead. My feet are 

My neat blue chair 23 

shod daintily like a charming girFs. My nails are 
pinkly polishedly pointed. My narrow black eye- 
brows look nearly patrician in their sereneness. 
My lips are stilly sad. My eyelids droop like the 
sucking dove's. But my gray eyes beneath the 
lids — when I raise them to the glass, my own 
Essence looks out of them, tiredly vivid. It seems 
made of languor and barbaricness and despair: and 
vague guiltiness, and some pure disastrous heathen 
religion, and lust: and lurid consciousness of every- 
day things and smouldering melancholy and blazing 
loving hatred of life. 

My gray eyes out-look the wildcat's on a twilight 

But — so far as the Sitting goes — I sit here in my 
Neat Blue Chair the same as they all sit in any- 
colored chairs in their Wichitas and La Crosses. 

24 A lost person 


I AM wandering about, a Lost Person, wandering 
and lost. 
Not magnificently lost in wide Gothic forest 
closes, with strong great blackish green trunks and 
branches all around overwhelming and thrilling me. 
Not dramatically lost on desert reefs with breakers 
riding up like menacing hosts and joyously drown- 
ing me. 

But lost surprisingly in a small clump of shoulder- 
high hazel-brush. In it are some wood-ticks, and 
a few caterpillars, and a few wan spiders which spin 
little desultory webs from twig to twig and then 
abandon them for other twigs. Underfoot are 
unexpected wet places at intervals that my high 
hard heels sink into exasperatingly. 
I walk round and round and across in the hazel- 
brush groping and knowing Fm lost in it but know- 
ing little else of it: knowing no way out of it. 
The bushes bear green leaves — rather small ones and 
warped because the clump is in a half-shaded place 
back of a hill. And they bear hazel-nuts, but not 
very good ones — mostly shell. 

A thin damnedness 2$ 


I OWN Two plain black Dresses and none besides. 
And I need no more. 
In which two sentences I touch the crux and 
the keynote and the thin damnedness of my life 
as it is set: of my life, not of myself, for myself lives 
naked inside the circle of my life. 
But my outer life is spaced by my Two plain Dresses. 
My Two Dresses measure how far removed I pres- 
ently am from the wide world of things. 
In the world of things a woman is judged not 
specifically by her morals: not invariably by her 
reputation: not absolutely by her money: not 
indubitably by her social prestige: only relatively 
by her beauty: and as to her brain or lack of it — 
la-Ia-Ia! She is judged in the matter- world simply, 
completely, entirely by her clothes. It is tacitly 
so agreed and decreed all over the earth — wherever 
women are of the female sex and men pursue them. 
It is no injustice to any woman. It is the fairest 
fiat in the unwritten code. 

Only a few women, the few specialized breeds, can 
express the fire or the humanness in them by play- 
acting or suflFragetting or singing or painting or 
writing or trained-nursing or house-keeping. But 
there's not one — from a wandering Romany gypsy, red- 

26 A thin damnedness 

blooded and strong-hearted, to an over-guarded over- 
bred British princess — who doesn't express what she is 
in the clothes she wears and the way she wears them. 
Her clothes conceal and reveal, artfully and contra- 
dictorily and endlessly. 
It is all a limitless field. 

No actor could act Hamlet without that perfect 
Hamletesque black costume. 

A nun's staid beautiful habit interprets her own 
meanings within and without. 

A woman naked may look markedly pure: the 
same woman clothed conventionally and demurely 
may achieve a meanly ghouhshly foul seeming. 
One either is made or marred by one's habiliments. 
A woman by her raiment's make and manner can 
express more of her wit, her ego, her temper, her 
humor, her plastic pulsating personality than she. 
could by throwing a bomb, by making a good or 
bad pudding, by losing her chastity or by traducing 
her neighbor. The germ and shadow and likeHhood 
of each of those acts is in the fashion and line and 
detail of her garments. 

A jury thinks it tries a womr.n for a criine. Some of 
the twelve good and true may admit each to himself 
that they are trying the color of her eyes or the shape 
of her chin or the droop of her shoulders. But it's 
only her clothes they unwittingly try for murder or 

A thin damnedness 27 

theft or forgery, or whatever has tripped her. It 
may be an alluringly shabby little dress that saves 
her from the gallows. It may be a hat worn at the 
wrong angle that is found guilty and sentenced to 
death. A glove in her lap, a fluttering veil, a little 
white handkerchief dropped to the floor by her chair 
— those are what the court tries for life or liberty. — 
But it is I I tell about, I and my Two plain Dresses. 
In me a smart frock or an unbecoming one makes a 
surprising difference. I impress my costume with my 
mixed temperament and it retaliates in kind. 
One day I looked a beautiful young creature — one 
August Saturday in New York it was— in a tailored 
gown of embroidered linen. With it I wore such a 
good hat: its color was pale olive: its texture was soft 
Milan straw: its price was forty dollars. My shoes 
were gray silk. I so fancied myself that day that I 
feared lest my writing talent had gone away from me. 
For God takes away the beer if he gives you the 
skittles. And in ill-conditioned clothes — some days 
the weather, the devil, the soddenness of life get into 
one's garments and make even fair ones look ill- 
conditioned — I am plain-faced, plain all over— so 
plain that the villainies of my nature feel doubtful 
and I half-think I may be a good woman. 
In a life full of people I would own varied delicate 
beautiful clothes since it is by them one is judged, 

28 A thin damnedness 

and since I am quite vain. But no people are in 
my life. I feel deadlocked. I am caught in a vise 
made by my own analytic ratiocination. I am not 
free to live a world-life till I've someway expressed 
Me and learned if not whither I go at least where I stand. 
So it's Two plain Dresses I own and none besides. 
It may be I shall not ever again need more. 
The Two Dresses are at present of serge and voile. 
Their identity changes with change of fashion and 
with wearing out. They are cut well and fit me 
well. But the Two does not change, nor the plain- 
ness. I change only from one Frock to the other 
and from the other to the one again. 
I have various other clothes. A woman — whatever 
her traits and tempers — garners what she can of 
handmade under-Iinens and dainty nightgowns and 
silk hose and all such private panoply. They are the 
apparel of her sex rather than her individuality. 
The uncognizant world is unable to judge her by 
them. But the woman herself judges and respects 
herself by the goodness of her intimate garments. 
My sex is to me a mystic gift. I marvel over it and 
clothe it silkenly. 

Also I own a healthful-looking percale house-gown 
or two in which I do housework. 
But my passing life, my eerie lonely life, is lived in 
my Two Dresses and none besides, and I need no more. 

A prison of self 29 



Y Two Dresses tell me the scope of my 
present Mary-Mac-Lane-ness. 
Every day they tell me things about myself. 
They tell me Fm living in a prison of self, invisible 
and ascetic and somberly just. 

They tell me Fm living an outer life narrow and 
broodingly companionless and that if I were not 
self-reliant by long habit a leprous morbidness 
would rot me in body and spirit. 
They tell me because of outer solitude an inner 
fever of emotion and egotism and a fervid analytic 
light are on all my phases of self: mental, physical, 
psychical and sexual. 

They tell me my way of thought is at once meditative 
and cave-womanish. 

They tell me Fm all ways the Unmarried Woman 
and profoundly loverless. 

They tell me Fm like a child and like a sequestered 

They tell me I am having no restful unrealities of 
social life with chattering women and no monotonous 
casually bloodthirsty flirtation^ with men. 
They tell me I walk daily to the edges of myself and 
stare into horrible-sweet egotistic abysses. 
They tell me Fm grave-eyed and coldly melancholy. 

30 A prison oj self 

They tell me there's a bereftness in the curves of my 

breasts and an unfulfillment in my loose-girt loins. 

They, tell me I am barren of sensation and fertile in 


They tell me God has taken away the beer and also 

the skittles and left me only pieces of bread and 

drinks of water. 

A winding sheet 3 1 


THE least important thing in my life is its 
The only things that matter lastingly are 
the things that happen inside me. 
If I do a cruel act and feel no cruelty in my Soul 
it is nothing. If I feel cruelty in my Soul though J 
do no cruel act Tm guilty of a sort of butchery and 
my spirit-hands are bloody with it. 
The adventures of my spirit are realer than the 
outer things that befall me. 

To dwell on the self that is known only to me — the 
self that is intricate and versatile, tinted, demi- 
tinted, deep-dyed, luminous, gives me an intimate 
delectation, a mental inflorescence and sometimes 
an exaltation. It is not always so but it can be so. 
But always to look back on the mass of outer events 
that have made my tangible life darkens my day^ 
Introspection throws a witching spell around me, 
though it may be a black one. 
But retrospection wraps me in a Winding Sheet. 
When the day is aheady dark from low-hanging 
clouds — and often when the sun is bright, bright, 
bright — I walk my floor and think of my scattered 
life-flotsam with a frown at the eyebrows: a coarse 
and heavy and twisted frown. 

32 A winding sheet 

To-day was a leaden day. The air held a quality 
like the infernal breath of dead people. I leaned el- 
bows on my dull window-sill and looked off at green 
and purple mountains. I tried to think of some 
reason — some reason tangible or poetic — for living. 
I wore my brocade Chinese coat fastened down the 
left side with round flashing glass buttons and 
embroidered with blue bats and gardenias: and with 
it a crinkly cr^pe-silk petticoat: and silk shoes and 
respectable white silk stockings. I felt righteous 
because in the forenoon I had done much house- 
work. I worked thoroughly and well, swearing and 
repeating poetry softly to lend me impetus. And 
afterward I felt useful and good. 
But having changed from Dutch cap and apron and 
domesticness to scented silk and my sad window I 
grew suddenly frail and vulnerable. Shadows 
stormed my wall and scaled it and entered in and 
sacked my castle. I lounged away from my window, 
folded my arms in my loose blue sleeves and slowly 
walked my floor. I had no strength within to 
combat shadows. 

I picked up two alien shreds, of lint and paper 
respectively, from the rug, but inside me undigested 
and indigestible memories had their own way. 
They brought close an unsatisfying and dissatisfying 
vista of Mary MacLanes. 

A winding sheet 33 

There was a stubborn baby in Winnipeg-Canada, 
as IVe heard, a baby with a white skin, coldly pen- 
sive dark-blue eyes, no hair, no voice, hand-worked 
muslin frocks and a fat lumpish mien. 
It was this Mary MacLane. 

There was a three-year-old child, as I dimly re- 
member, still in Canada and still stubborn, with a 
stout keg-like pink-and-white body, bafHing blue 
eyes, a tiny voice, thick sun-colored curls, cambric 
frocks and short white socks and a morose temper. 
She had one love, a yellow tortoise-shell kitten which 
she hugged and hugged with violence until one day 
it died surprisingly in her arms. 
It was this Mary MacLane. 

There was a seven-year-old child in Minnesota, as 
I well remember, still stubborn and still often morose, 
with a thin bony little body, conscious gray eyes, a 
tanned face, weather-beaten hands, untidy frocks, 
beautiful fluffy golden hair, a tendency to secretive- 
ness and lies, a speculative mind, fantastic day- 
dreams and a free hoydenish way of life. She had 
playmates but no loves except an objective love for 
quiet greenwoods and sweet meadows and windy 
hills and hay-filled barns, and for the surface details 
of life. She had subjective hatreds for being fussed 
over, for being teased and for relatives. 
It was this Mary MacLane. 

34 -^ winding sheet 

There was a thirteen-year-old person, as I well 
remember, in a windy Montana town, who was 
neither girl, child nor savage but was a mixture of 
the three. She had a devilish contrary will and 
temper, the unenlightened inexpressive wholly 
unattractive face and features of early adolescence* 
a self-love that had not the dignity of egotism and 
a devouring appetite for reading. She read every- 
thing she happened on — from Voltaire to Nick 
Carter: from *Lady Audley's Secret' to Fox's Book 
of Martyrs. She read Alexander Pope and Victor 
Hugo and John Stuart Mill. She read * Lena Rivers ' 
by Mary J. Holmes: also Confucius: and the 
Brothers Grimm. She had a long-legged lanky 
frame, conscious gray eyes, lovely coppery-gold dark 
hair and a silly headful of tangled irrational thoughts. 
She had pathetic impossible day-dreams. She had 
few companions and no loves but much hatred for 
most things sane, sensible and honest. 
It was this Mary MacLane. 

There was an eighteen-year-old girl in this Butte, 
as I well remember, with the outward savagery 
tamed out of her by studiousness. She was slim 
but no longer lanky and owned a white-hot aliveness 
and a grace. She had repelling gray eyes and the 
beautiful coppery hair, and about her an isolation, 
a complete aloofness. Her spirit fed itself on wonder- 

A winding sheet 35 

ful and exquisite dreams alternated by moods of 
young passionate woe, analyzed and torn to shreds: 
all of it hid beneath a very quiet surface. She had 
outwardly a tense markedly virginal quality but 
was inwardly insolently demi-vierge. She had no 
companions, no friendships. She absorbed herself 
in digging knowledge out of her high school text- 
books, studying and imagining over it, and wander- 
ing in the fascinating highways which it opened to 
her. She was at her moment of brain-awakening, 
soul-awakening, sex-awakening, life-awakening, 
world-awakening: it uncurtained windows of magic 
old sorrow for her to look from. She had no char- 
acteristic weaknesses — she was strongly and scorn- 
fully courageous. It and the need of self-expression, 
born of her teeming spirit and life-long suppression 
of it, led her to write herself out in a book, which 
was published. It was a poetic book and had insight 
and vision and a riot of color with youth as its key- 
note. And it was human and figuratively and 
literally full of the devil. The far-and-wide public 
in England and America read it, and the newspapers 
made a loud noise about it and the lonely girl who 
wrote it found herself oddly notorious. It brought 
money which made her free of Butte and it brought 
human things into her life which changed her life 
forever. And it brought her no inner or outer 

36 A winding sheet 

excitement or elation. 
It was this Mary MacLane. 

There was a girl of six-and-twenty in Boston and in 
New York who had half-forgot her long-familiar 
Ego for several years. She lived and moved in folly 
and triviality and falseness. From having had too 
few companions she had too many who did her no 
good and no harm but helped her waste passing days 
and dissipate her moods and mental tissues. She 
had grown worldly in taste, weak in manner of 
thought, fragile in body from a mad irregularity 
of food and sleep, and in every attribute uncertain 
of herself. Her Soul lay sleeping: her Heart because 
it felt too keenly worked overtime: nothing engaged 
her Mind. But her analytic trend stayed by and 
with it she pulled to bits the varied fragmentary 
things she encountered. She learned New York 
town in human sordid enlightening disciplining ways. 
She learned people of many kinds in many ways. 
She learned other young women, which depressed 
and exhilarated and perplexed her. She learned men 
— a race whose make and motive toward women 
bears no analysis. She had not the usual defensive 
armor of the normal woman, for she was not a normal 
woman but certain trends of varying individuals 
gathered into one sensitive woman-envelope. She 
was careless toward men in their crude sex-rapacity 


A winding sheet 37 

in ways no 'regular' woman would dare or care to be. 
No man could wring one tear from her, nor cause a 
quickening of her foolish Heart, nor any emotion 
in her save mirth. And there were women friends — 
There were some friendships whose ill effects she 
will never recover from, from having bestowed too 
much of herself on them in the headlong newness of 
knowing and owning friendship after her long young 

— she could not cherish anything sanely. She 
couldn't stand in her doorway and watch a pretty 
bird flying above a green hedge, and admire it for 
the gleam of its brilliant wings in the sun, and let 
it go. She must needs run out — leaving her door 
standing open and tea-and-cakes untasted within — 
and follow where the bird flew, through mire and 
brier, round the world — 

From the odd notoriety were many letters and 
experiences and adventures. She met some famous 
persons — writers, actors, artists — of agreeable philo- 
sophic plaisances. She saw her book of youth 
burlesqued with artistic piquance in the Weber-and- 
Fields show of its season (with one Collier, adroitest 
of comedians, cast as her long-lost Devil). There 
was a hasty voyage to the edge of Europe — a voyage 
of terrific seasickness lying in her stateroom: a half- 
glimpse of Paris all gray and green in the rain: a 

38 ' A winding sheet 

whole glimpse of London, mystic, Dickensesque 
and roundly British in its yellow-brown fog: and 
back again within ten days with more berth-ridden 
seasickness lasting from Cherbourg to New York 
harbor: the whole adventure grown from a Spring 
morning impulse. There were winters in Florida at 
sun-flooded resort towns full of gaudiness and 
gambling and surprising winter-resort people. Those 
were mongrel wastrel years empty of every realness, 
every purpose, every vantage: they filled her with a 
bastard wisdom.' 
It was this Mary MacLane. 

There was a girl of seven-and-twenty worn to psychic 
fragments and returned on a winter's day in a mood 
of indiff'erence to this Butte. It was her first return 
since she and her book had gone forth eight years 
before. She celebrated it by being brought low with 
a baleful blood-sucking demon of illness, what is 
called scarlet fever. Borne upon by the mountain 
altitude after sea-Ievels and getting in the way of 
epidemic germs, she had no chance. A strong 
feverish serpent wound itself around her, consuming 
and destroving. There were tortured dying weeks. 
She had never been ill before in all her life. This 
was the most crucial bodily adventure she had 
known. It opened a new and dreadful world. 
There was no passing of time in those long, long 

A winding sheet 39 

weeks, no rational thinking, no day, no night, no 
dark, no morning, no memory. There was pain, and 
utter weariness, and a feeling of being hurried to her 
grave. There was an air of hurry in the stillness 
around, as if she and Death had made a date which 
she would be late in keeping unless she were urged on. 
There was a doctor, and a crisp white starched nurse, 
and there were interminable bitter drugs and tall nar- 
row glasses of monotonous milk. She was endlessly 
disturbed by milk and medicine, and by cold spong- 
ings and changings of feverish bed-linens, and 
anointings with olive oil, and takings of her temper- 
ature, and sprayings of her throat: when she wanted 
only to sink down, down, forever and forever to the 
underworld. She almost sank. But God capri- 
ciously decided he had other plans for her — insomuch 
as decreeing she was not to be let go then. After 
seven weeks she tiredly rose from her bed and took 
stock of herself. Her role then was of a horrible 
yellow skeleton with negative gray eyes, a wreck of 
tissue and vitality such as only scarlet fever can 
achieve, and her beautiful thick coppery hair changed 
to a strange short mouse-colored tangle. She was a 
long time recovering. The scarlet demon changed 
her life and its meanings and energies and 
outlooks more effectually than if she had been 
trapped by a game-at-Iaw and gaols and courts had 

40 A winding sheet 

had their toll of her. But after months, a year and a 

half of months, her health came back perfect if not 

vigorous, and her good looks — the few she ever had, 

and even the humanizing incongruous curls, though 

changed, grew long and covered her head again in a 

heathen frivol. A so magnificent mystery is this 

blood-and-flesh. It grows up again out of its ashes. 

Burn all of it but one cell in the scorchingest sickness 

and so that bones are still whole it will renew itself 

from that, perfect as the sweet-bay. But this mind, 

less magnificent and less mysterious and more 

delicate and dubious, rallies only by aid of the heart 

beneath it and the soul beyond it. Her mind came 

slowly out of darkened apathy. It lived in a high- 

walled cloister telling its languid beads by rote. 

But as if it sensed the sweet aura of her renewed 

body it at last woke strong and cold overnight and 

was aware again of itself and the mourning magic of 


It was this Mary MacLane. 

And after a year or two more it is this Mary 


It is I myself. 

I walk my floor in leaden retrospect-days with a feel 

in my throat of damned and damning unfulfillment 

and at my eyebrows the twisted frown. 

In it is dread and anguish and worriment: in it is 

A winding sheet 41 

hideous altering breaking prepollence of death. 

— if my hair, just my hair, had not come back after 

that red fever Vd have decided — not capriciously 

like God but determinedly like myself — to have died 

by my own hand one night. It is no brave thought 

and it would have been no brave deed. Though it 

wants a lowering courage to leave life when, despite 

all, one loves its very textureless color, its bodiless 

air: not to speak of the yellow hot deathless sunshine 

that can not reach one in her dark grave — 

But the look and feel of my hair are the look and 

feel of positive Hfe, opposed to death. 

To live up to my hair would keep me brave. 

But the retrospects, which I can't escape, come and 

wrap me in the Winding Sheet. 

42 The Dover road 


I LAY down at noonday on my green couch and 
I had a quaint dream. I have just awakened 
from it in a flush of languor and comfort. And 
the dream is vivid in my mind. I dreamed I was 
married and it was pink-and-pearl dawn in my 
married bed-room. And in the bed one inch away 
from mine was not my married husband but * another 
man.' It was no man I can recall having seen. 
As I look back into the dream he seems of the 
nowhere, a stranger. But in the dream he was no 
stranger. I had crudely admitted him to my night. 
And I had just awakened in the pink-and-white 
dawn and was sitting silk-gowned and ruffle-haired 
in my bed, cross-legged like a tailor with my elbows 
on my knees and my chin on my palms, idly contem- 
plating him. And he was lying in the other narrow 
bed contemplating me and smiling a little. He had 
nice teeth and yellowish hair. The crux of the 
dream was the sound 'off-stage' of the approaching 
footsteps of monsieur-the-husband. As it always is 
in the psychology of dreams the insistent thing in 
the situation was not the footsteps, nor even that 
they were approaching, but the sound: the elusive 
threat of their sound. He would presently discover 
us. Nobody appeared to care: not * another man' 

The Dover road 43 

smiling so tranquilly: not I sitting musingly over- 
looking him who had overnight 'enjoyed me': not 
the husband, because he never knew it — before he 
could open the guilty door I awoke. 
A short-cut gently headlong dream. I was at once 
married, mixed adulterantly with an imperfect 
stranger and awaiting in pleasant mild anticipation, 
to match the pink-and-pearl of the summer dawn, 
the climax in the approaching sound of my husband's 
footsteps. It was humorous and artistic. Un- 
seemly preliminaries were done away with in that 
dream. I was given at once the one exciting worth- 
while moment in it. 

Having no data as to what were my husband's, 
temper and tenor, what he looked like or who he 
was, I could not in the dream or out of it surmise 
what he would say or how he would act when he 
opened the door. 

— a theme for idling speculation in a summer's 

Also I wonder whence came that dream: so Un- 
expected: so Irrelevant to any thought in me: so 
Artistically Right: so Disgusting: so Dramatic: so 
quaintly Vulgar. 

A question: to which the one answer is that un- 
answerable answer to all questions, propounded by Mr. 
F.'s Aunt — * There's milestones on the Dover road.' 

44 The harp oj worn strings 



AY I own no unleavened egotism. 
May I own no egotism that is not sensitive 
and poignant and vibrant: a harp of Worn 

The surprising world is full of non-analytic persons 
of ox-eyed vision and hen-headed mental caliber 
whose egotism is a stupendous impregnable armor: 
those who burned the Maid of Orleans: those who 
crucified the prophet of Nazareth: those who killed 
John Keats. 

They inherit the earth, which is a Golden-Green 
earth, but never look at it. 

They accept this life, which is Intoxicating life, but 
never feel its texture with their fingers. 
They gather a Blue iris by a marsh-edge and let it 
die in their sweating hands, or let it fall to the ground 
as they walk, or throw it away when the Blue petals 
droop: without looking at it and breathing it and 
knowing it: without sensing the tremulous Blue to 
be lovelier in its wilting. 

Theirs is the thick fat solidly-fierce egotism of an 
emperor or an infant whose main metaphysic concept 
is that he is alive, and will remain alive, and must 
be aliv^ though all around him bleed drop by drop 
to their death. 

The harp of worn strings 4^ 

I have analyzed mine, and it is not so with me. 

If I say I am enchanting or false or despicable it is 

because I know it's true. Not because I say it but 

because I have tested and proved it. I feel the 

textures of my life with the tips of my fingers. I 

turn my senses outward and let the old winds blow 

over them — icy, balmy, harsh, gentle, scorching, 

cooling. I suffer for it but I know those winds: 

songs of seas and stars and of little pebbles are in 

their thunderous-dim wailing: life is in the soft 

stinging perfume of their wings. 

No breath of poetry and beauty comes to me that 

I do not pay for with the beating ache of my Heart, 

the nervous tensions of my Body, the fraying and 

shredding of my Soul. If any beauty or poet-thing 

comes easily and gives me pleasure and not pain, I 

know I have not yet got it and that it will come 


It will come again: with the pain. 

I can't eat cake and have it. 

I can't make silk purses out of sows' ears. 

Those things I learn nearly perfectly from playing 

on my harp with the Worn Strings. 

46 A strongly-windy Saturday 


IT is a strongly-windy Saturday. 
A thought achieves itself in my roiled-and- 
placid brain: that one half of me is Mad, 
but the other half is doubly Sane and someway over- 
Sane, so that in it all I break a little better than even. 

A someway separate individual 47 



HIS Body I live in is familiar and mysterious. 
It is like a book of poetry to read and read 

It has the owned sentientness of bone-and-flesh, 
and with it tremors fine as spirit-emotions. 
My Body is more chaste than my Mind, my Heart 
and my Soul. My Body if fragile is healthful, and 
is one with the woman-race: it moves with the 
sunht cosmos. My Mind wanders in sex-chaos and 
muses on piquant impure things, enchanting vil- 
lainies, odd inversions, whatnot. My Soul — a sweet 
and an exquisite Thing— its tired wings have borne 
it languidly down the dim stairways of many 
centuries, some leading in wilful perverted ways. 
And my Heart is a pagan Heart. Its essence is 
flavored with the day and lyric trail of the Sapphic 

Bodily I am also pagan in the freedom of my owned 
sex feelings— as are all women. Most of them do 
not know it and those who do hide it in a tomb-like 
silence, except the brazen, the headlongly honest 
and the artlessly frank. I come under none of those 
heads. I am myself. I live and ponder alone. 
And my Body feels consciously aloof and as a some- 
way separate individual: with inner organs as 

48 A someway separate individual 

eternal hopes, smooth skin as emotion and drops of 
blood as thoughts — little drops of sparkling red 
virile sweet blood for its thoughts. 
I so love my Body as it lives and breathes and moves 
about, with me and close to me. It is my so constant 
companion. It is an attractive girl, a human being 
of some charm. I love it for the priceless air it 
breathes and the long jewel-days of sunshine it has 
known: for the tiny wears and tears of its daily 
life — ^the rending of its magic tissues with each 
going-up-or-down-stairs, each crossing of a door-sill. 
I love it for that it must lie at last pale, pale and 
still — still — still — in its grave. 

I love my Body for its woman-complexities of sex. 
I love it for the lonely lyric poetry of its cell-ad- 

I love my Body for this long journey of woe and 
loveliness which it goes, from Birthday to Death- 
day, in wilding passions of subtle nervousness : each 
day a day of bodily beauty and intolerableness and 
fear and utter mystery: because life is, and because 
I own a white smooth-skinned Body, and because 
the strange, strange Air of Everyday breathes on 
it — ^touches it — ^always! 

Sincerity and despair 49 


I AM a true Artist, not as a writer but as a writing- 
I try to feel myself literarily a poet — finer-made 
than a god. But I fail as a poet-litterateur as I fail 
as a poet-person. A poet flies always on wings of 
fiery gold though it might be waywardly. But 
often I walk with my feet in odd gutters, and have 
some plaisance in them, and analyze their gutteriness 
absorbedly and own them as part of my portion. 
— poet or no poet, it is best to be myself. In heights 
and murks and widths and trivial horrors, myselj — 
But as an Artist I am in the true. As a painter of 
words and maker of paragraphs which picture my 
phases and emotions, and in my conscious feeling 
anent it, I realize the artist flair, the artist temper. 
It is not a literary but a personal art. 
I have what goes with all artist-matter — long periods 
of dry-rot when having nothing ripe to write I write 
nothing. My Artist-spirit proves itself, justifies 
itself in my times of stagnation and reaction. Out 
of it something human and sad and lustrous grows 
in me, something which is half worldly but awaits 
its ripe time of expression with someway-divine 
I once thought me destined to be a 'writer' in the 

5*0 Sincerity and despair 

ordinary sense. And many good people visioned a 
writing career for me. It has a vapid taste, just to 
recall it. My flawed life has that to felicitate upon — 
that I have not spent it in fat lumps of writing, 
magazine tales and sex-novels. In the days, and 
later, when my demi-vierge book made its success I 
was besought by publishers to write others — to 
go on, to reap and garner. I pushed all that away 
with a preoccupied hand, not as part, and parcel of 
my wastrel living but in my assured Artist-temper. 
I should feel more true-to-form to earn my living by 
making linen roses in a shop, along with rows of 
pale women, than by my writing. 
My writing is to me a precious thing — and a rare 
bird — and a Babylonish jade. It demands gold in 
exchange for itself. But though it is my talent it is 
not my living. It is too myself, like my earlobes 
and my throat, to commercialize by the day. 
But I can not think of me as an Artist without think- 
ing of me as a Liar. The two are someway related. 
I am an appalling, an encompassing Liar. I am a 
Liar by the clock. My life ticks out silent lies as 
my Httle clock ticks out seconds. It is a phase hard 
to put my finger on. I feel it on me the way I feel a 
headache. I write this book with seriousness and 
earnestness. It is all a mood of sincerity and de- 
spair. But except I give it some backgrounding of 

Sincerity and despair ci 

lies, though each thing in it is fair fact, I fail as'an 

It is strange about lies— any lies, all lies. They are 
muscularly stronger 'than truths. They come more 
readily to human tongues. They fit more easily 
into the games of this life. And in me they seem 
needful to my Artist mind. 

I mean not the lies I may tell but the lies I think. 
I mean not my falseness. That is a different thing, 
one I feel someway responsible for. But the thinking 
lies feel to be a heritage from ancient evil selves. 
I lie to myself, to the air around me — I blow lies 
into space from my quiet lips. And one half of me 
knows them for lies and the other half of me believes 

Those half-known lies, the need of the lies half- 
believed, are the realization of an essential Artist- 

The oblique belief in them and the recognition of 
them as lies proclaim me to myself, as a writing- 
person: Liar and Artist. 

52 Ifs not death 


IT'S not Death I fear, nor Life. 
I horridly fear something this side of Death but 
out-pacing Life a little: a nervousness in my 
Stomach — a very Muddy Street — a Lonely Hotel 

A human prerogative 5'3 


IT is a quiet deep of night. A bell has just tolled 
I am clothed in cool bedroom negligees and a 
softening sweetness of cold cream, from head to 

I am tranquil for to-day I had a walk that made me 
feel Sincere and Safe. 

It is a comforting feeling: it is like a beef-sandwich. 
It was a long walk south-east of Butte along an 
outskirting road where I used often to walk when I 
was sixteen — a broad gray desert. It was the same 
sand and barrenness. It was bare and withered as 
if a giant coyote had picked its rocky ribs. 
The day was windy and dusty. The sunshine was 
thick and sweet and heavy like floating honey. 
The dust that blew against the white of my neck 
was like ground glass. 
My feet ached as I walked. 

My shoes were Cuban-heeled t'hick-soled pumps of 
corded silk, a kind easy to walk in. But the same 
feet which once readily bore me seven miles along 
that road ache now at three. All of me ached as I 
walked along. I cursed desultorily with a smooth 
whispered flow of curses, because the circumstances 
seemed to demand it. But I loved the walk — even 

54 -^ human prerogative 

the more for my tired feet and my aching knees and 

my irking drooping shoulders and the hot glazed 

sand against my throat. 

My Soul tasted realness in it. 

Quite close to me, in immense sad beauty, were the 

deep high heavy silent somber hills of Montana. 

To-day the nearer ones were a stately enchanted 

Blue: a Blue of all ages: a Blue of infinitude: a Blue 

with a feel of life and death in its Blueness. Above 

it the sky was not blue but a pale glimmering 

shimmering silver hung across with gray silk clouds 

soft as doves' plumage. 

I sat on a flat rock and looked at all of it and at the 

desert around, and at my dusty shoes. 

All of it felt overwhelmingly sincere: at one with the 

wide worn used earth. 

My dusty shoes looked to be at one with it and could 

interpret it. 

I felt my shoes could claim their human prerogative 

of getting dusty in any of this world's roads. 

It gave me a feeling of human Sincerity: good-and- 

evil Safeness. 

It is on me now, along with cold cream and strong 

memory of Desert and Sun and Blue. 

It is as good as a beef-sandwich. 

Better: I don't like beef-sandwich. 

The merciless beauty 55 


SOMETIMES the dusk is full of fire. 
Some dusks I sit by my window looking out 
and hotly and coldly want a Lover: hotly 
with my Body and coldly with my Mind. 
A dusk has just gone. I sat looking out at it. 
A mist of dark cream tinged with heated violet came 
from nowhere and hung above the ground. 
Suddenly came on me a sense of bewildering 
mysterious beauty. 

In it was a feel of rippling warmth that crept into 
my bone-and-flesh from forehead to heel, from 
temples to soles, from crown to toe-tips. 
It crept slow and suffocating Hke magic chloro- 

I leaned elbows on window-sill and chin on palms 
and sunk my gaze in the violet shades outside and 
straightway knew I wanted a Lover: not in delicate 
moonlit culmination like Juliet in her balcony: not 
denyingly like the timid young nun in her cloister 
assailed unaware by faint forbidden emotions. 
I wanted a Lover like the jungle leopard leaping 
through the Springtime covert at nightfall to find 
her mate. 

It is a subtle and an obvious feeling, made of a 
merciless beauty. 

56 The merciless beauty 

It is the tired urge of sex-tissues and nerve-cells: 

positive, furious, fiery as the bloodiest sun. 

It is the same which the heated leopard feels in her 

sharp immaculate lust. It is quite the same — but it 

could not move me as I sat alone loverless to the 

knitting of an eyebrow, to a change ""of posture, a 

movement of elbows on the window-sill or of palms 

beneath my chin. Nor could it, though the potential 

Lover had stood outside my window. 

For any woman of any charm the world is full of 

Lovers : each and all to be had by the flutter of her 

finger, the droop of her white eyelids, the trembling 

of her pink-bowed lips. The world is full of them — 

facile Lovers, craven, potent and pinchbeck. And 

it*s that kind I want hotly with my Body, coldly 

with my Mind in dusks of rippling warmth — rippling, 

rippling warmth — 

I want the Lover as the leopard wants hers. But 

Fm not a leopard: instead, a woman-person of keen 

sentientness and wild wistful imagination. So I 

wouldn't so much as crook a finger to call a Lover 

to me: a curious nervous inertia. 

It's only I want the Lover with frantic blind cosmic 

ardors inside me. 

I analyze it in my magic Mind and find I would call 

no Lover. I analyze farther and find I'd reject all 

but an impossible one-in-ten-thousand. But remains 

The merciless beauty 51 

the desire, hot as live embers, cold as hail. 

Sex is an odd attribute. It has been to me like a 

blest impediment and a celestial incumbrance and a 

radiant curse. — • 

When I was seventeen I stood on a threshold and 

peered curiously into a dim-lit strange-scented 


It was unknown to me then. My mind alone 

bespoke it. As I stood at its doorway the air it 

wafted out touched my sense with only the lightest 

frayed-cobweb contact, unintelligible and unen- 

lightening. I had lived an emptily alone girlhood. 

I was icily virginal. 

At five-and-twenty I crossed the Room's threshold. 

I breathed lightly the odd fragrance. I looked 

curiously around. I touched some amorous-looking 

grapes and some love-promising apples that lay 

about: I bit into^one and burst a grape with my 

finger and thumb. I gathered a weak-petaled 

flower or two. I gauged the Room and its furnish- 

ments and was unthrilled by anything in it. Even 

bodily it left me unthrilled. 

Those two memory-mists do not keep me in the 

now-dusk and in the strength and terror and fire 

of top-most youth from wanting a sudden Lover 

with all that's in my Body. 

Love has naught to do with it. Love is a flame- 

58 The merciless beauty 

winged Bird. I know it. I know the values of- my 
life and of me. I do not mistake tapers for torches, 
ducats for louis d' ors, vicarious nepenthe for dream- 
less death. 

In dusk-moments my bone-and-flesh is all of me I'm 
sure of. It begins and ends in this earth. It 
answers the violent summonses of this earth and its 

In the just-gone dusk I felt the prickling blood flow 
to my finger-ends. A flood-tide, blinding red, 
surged and seethed and bubbled and pounded at 
my heart. 

*I want a Lover — some Lover' — I murmured to the 
shadows beyond my window. 
I grew breathless. 

The spirit of my flesh rose like a wind-blown flame. 
A loud cry rang in my nerve-wilderness. 
That moment the variant analysis which always 
rides with me stopped dead. 

There came instead sheer feeling — the merciless 

— a man-person, maybe — ^the man of happy un- 
analytic brutality — ^to be suddenly there with me: 
to flash into my shadowy solitude like a lightning 
bolt and burst and break me. 

— a quarter-hour of exquisite wildness — restlessness, 
made of Star-flame and Lily-petal and Cloud-burst 

The merciless beauty 59 

on Mountain-summits and Sea-waves purple in a 

Stormy Dawn — an intolerable hunger and esctasy — 

But just gone and I sit writing it in the pale cast of 


But breathlessly I recall the breathlessness of jt. 

6o My shoes 


I LOVE my Shoes. 
I love them because they so guard my feet. 
I walk many a mile along the stone pavements 
and into distant odd streets and on open roads at 
the outskirts of this Butte. 
And while I walk I think. 

I think things of a great many kinds- — potent and 
magic and mad. The act of walking starts an engine 
in my sparkhng infernal mind. And the weight 
and the sting and the hurt and the fascination of my 
walking thoughts bear down on my slim feet as they 
carry me along. And the hard-beaten world beneath 
them feels resentful and uncomplaisant to my soles. 
And then I look down at my Shoes with their trim 
tailored vamps and their walk-worthy soles and 
instantly my feet feel secure against evil, smartly 
protected from my thoughts and from the world's 
surface: my thoughts which shoot down on them 
out of my devilish brain and the world-hardness 
beneath them. 

To-day I was walking along the road that leads up 
the ever-wonderful Anaconda Hill — a place of stones 
and sand-wastes and hoists and scaffoldings and 
mines with ten thousand digging men thousands of 
feet down in their metallic bowels. Close by were 

My shoes 6i 

melancholy mulberry-toned mountains at the north- 
east. They were tragic, triumphant, grief-stricken, 
terrifyingly beautiful. Purple clouds hung around 
them like mourning veils. I can't look enough at 
those — it is as if there weren't enough looking-power 
in my human gray eyes. 

Presently I came to a small open space as I walked, 
a toy desert. A toy desert is more like a desert 
than is a real one. The sand in it is grayer sand. 
The stones are abrupter. The sun is flatter-looking. 
The air is less willing to furnish breath to a human 
being. The best that could be said of this one is 
that it was intolerably desolate. I looked about 
and about it. And suddenly I was afraid. Afraid 
of many things: afraid of grief-stricken mountains: 
afraid of my life and of Me. 

I leaned against a yellow ledge of rock with a subtle 
sickening faintish feeling. * I am afraid, ' I said inside 
me, *of this world and this life, and of all things 
little and large — nerves and Christmas days and 
poetry: toy deserts and all. How can I cope with 
it — I alone?' 

Then I looked down at my Shoes of black soft dull 
leather and cloth, buttoned snugly around my ankles 
and with tough supple soles fit to take me to Jericho 
and back. Thus neatly armored I felt suddenly 
my blue- veined feet need fear nothing from sand and 

62 My shoes 

stone and hardness of ground. And if my feet are 

not afraid — my feet which bear weights of all-of-me 

— ^why should afraidness touch my spirit which is 


There will be always Shoes in the world: stout 

stylish serviceable boots, and pale delicate rat-skin 

pumps, and satin muIe-sIippers. 

And always I shall have Shoes: in toy deserts I 

shall have black strong snug-buttoned ones. 

I looked at them in this toy-desert and straightway 

I wasn*t afraid. 

It has been often Kke that. 

So I love my Shoes. 

An eerie quality 63 


WHEN I was Ten years old I played mar- 
bles *for keeps,' smoked little pieces 
of rattan buggy whip in the hay-scented 
barn and slid *belly-buster' down long winter hills 
on my sled. And I hammered and sawed ruinously 
with grownup tools, whistling happily. And I 
played with dolls absorbedly for hours on end. 
I was not boyish and not girlish. 
I was not childish except for an oddly hungry child- 

I was myself. 

So long ago and longer I consciously owned an 
eerie quality which toppled over the edge of my 
And still own it. 

64 ^ helliad 


THIS noonday as I sat on the veranda two 
young lads stopped by the stone coping 
which borders this front yard, and con- 
versed. One was eager-looking and about eleven 
years old. The other was perhaps thirteen and 
morose and he had a small rifle which he polished 
with a bit of waste, not lifting his gaze as they talked. 
Said the younger boy: * Say- Frank, I could *a' had 
that old shot-gun oflP my dad if I'd' a' went after it 
to Rocker that time. * 

* Like hell you could, ' said Frank. 

'^ Say- Frank, you know that Winchester o' Billy 

O'Rourke's? — he made six buH's-eyes and one inside 

ring with it day 'fore yesterday.' 

*Like hell he did,' said Frank. 

'Say- Frank, Mexicans and Indians can get a guy 

ev'ry time with a long-distance rifle without taking 

aim through the sight.' 

*Like heH they can,' said Frank. 

* Say- Frank, there's a kid down on South Arizona 
that's got a Colt automatic that'fl hit without him 
aiming at afl.' 

* Like hell there is,' said Frank. 

* Say- Frank, you know them little brass machine- 
guns the militia's got? — ^the bores o' them things 're 

A helliad 65 

rifled just like this.' 

* Like hell they are/ said Frank. 

* Say- Frank, my grandfather in Illinois 's got a 
bullet in him he got at the battle o' Fredericksburg 
in the Civil War.' 

*Like hell he has,' said Frank. 

* Say- Frank, it costs a hundred-thousand dollars to 
make a Krupp gun and eighty dollars ev'ry time you 
fire it.' 

*Like hell it does,' said Frank. 

* Say- Frank, it ain't a felony to croak a burglar with 
a gun even if he's only breakin' into somebody else's 

*Like hell it ain't,' said Frank. 

* Say- Frank, my mother goes huntin', too — she can 
shoot rabbits and ducks on the wing and once she 
got a deer with that big old .44 o' my Uncle Walt's.' 
*Like hell she did,' said Frank. 

'Say- Frank — listen, will you gimme your gun for 
my bicycle, both my catcher's gloves and four 
dollars when I get paid?' 
*Like hell I will,' said Frank. 

* Say- Frank — listen, will you gimme it for my 
bicycle, my two catcher's gloves, four dollars when 
I get paid and my shepherd pup? ' 

*Like hell I will,' said Frank. 

* Say-Frank — listen, — and my artificial snake?' 

66 A helliad 

'Like hell/ said Frank. 

* Say- Frank — listen, — and my half o* Ernest's 

*Like hell,' said Frank. 

'Say- Frank — listen, — and my last year's shin- 

'Like hell,' said Frank. 

'Say- Frank — listen, — and my this year's shin- 
guards? ' 

'Like hell/ said Frank. 

'Say- Frank, come right down to it I don't want a 
.22. If I get a gun this year it'll be a .32.' 
'Like he—' — 

Which point I felt to be the too-note of the helliad, 
so I rose and came into the house. 
I felt replete with rhythm and with a sense of sur- 
prising human attitudes remote from my own. 

Swijt go my days 6-7 


SWIFT, Swift go my days. 
By rights I think time should drag with me, 
for I am wasting my portion of life as I live 

But my days pass Swift — Swift, Swift. 
They come, they fly away — before I know. 
Tm thinking it is Tuesday: but while Tm thinking 
— Wednesday has come: and gone: and Thursday 
is rushing in. Tuesday, blue-and-gold or gray-and- 
silver, with its mornings and nights and bits of food 
and openings of doors and thinkings: Wednesday 
with the same equipment: Thursday the same. 
Each day comes and goes like a flash of filmed silvered 
garbled hght. 

But there is time in each for me to touch the en- 
chanted Every day ness : time for the turbulent sly 
delight of tasting, smelling, feeling the eternal 
humors and romances in eacPi small thing near me — 
my Clock, my Window, my Jar of Cold Cream, my 
Two Thumbs. There is time in each day for it to 
make me pay a wearing ghmmering feverish homage 
to the mystic daily godhead. 
My life exacts terrific homages from me. 
I am wearing out — frailly, tiredly, from a desolate 
uneasy love of living. 

68 Swift go my days 

It is why my days go Swift when by rights time 
should drag leadenly in punishment for barbarous 

There is not time-space enough in any of the days 
sufficient to love the virile green and the murderous 
red and the sweet pale surprising purple in the sunset 
above the west desert: nor space to love the smell 
of a sudden August rain: nor the flaming delicate 
Idea of the poet John Keats. 

While I'm starting to love each of those to its height 
of love- worthiness — the to-day is gone; and the to- 
morrow, which must see a new love-game started for 
each Thing, is come. 
But while I say *is come': it's gone. 
So Swift go my days — oh Swift, Swift I 

By the blood of dead Americans 69 


SINCE I wrote the beginning of this there has 
come the war in Europe : a war full of suffering 
brave women and dead children : full of Ger- 
man greed and cruelty and stupidity and of French 
gameness and cheerfulness, French splendor of valor. 
It has an effect of some kind on each person who 
reads so much as its * headlines.' 
It has the effect on me of making me a jealously 
patriotic American. 

It makes me think of Lexington and Gettysburg 
with an odd furious personal shame. 
We are Americans not by accident but by the blood 
of dead Americans. But we assume it is by accident. 
We lie down like a nation of bastards to let the pig- 
hearted Hun trample by proxy on our neck. 
It was for America to declare war in the same hour 
the Lusitania passengers met murder. 
We were not 'too proud' but afraid. Afraid and not 

Not ready has no right thing to do with it. 
They were not ready at Lexington. 
I long with some passion to exchange my two black 
dresses for two white ones with red crosses on the 
sleeves : to serve my country in a day of death and honor. 
It too is all the time under my skin though I write 
along but in this flawed song of myself. 

70 To express me 


I SUPPOSE Im very lonely. 
It is luck — luck from the stars — not to be beset 
by clusters of people, people who do their think- 
ing outside their heads, * cheerful' people, people who 
say * pardon me': all the damning sorts scattered 
about obstructing one's view of the horizons. 
But for want of — other, other people — I am intensely 

When I was eighteen I thought I must be the most 
lonely creature in this world. I analyzed my life 
then as now and it by itself had set me apart. But 
I stood then as it's given Youth to stand — on High 
Ground. I was strong to endure loneliness while 
viciously hating it. There was unaware a hope- 
colored bliss in my inexperience which companioned 
me. I felt it then without knowing I felt it. I can 
see that plainly now. 

Now also I see plainly and feel plainly that I stand 
on lower ground, at poorer vantage. As my bodily 
strength which was then robust is now slight. The 
metaphysic life-shadows reach me more easily. 
They have a feel of fatally shutting down, fatefully 
closing in. They are the mirages on the dun-colored 
worldly air near me of my own useless untoward 
selves. There is no more the hope-colored bliss. 

To express me 71 

At eighteen I said to me: ^Fm lonely but some day 
I may be happily friendshiped and apprehended and 
it will be like paradise.' 

Now I say to me: 'Fm lonely by fate and by nature 
and temperament. I've known some friendships of 
vivid alluringness and informingness — they await me 
now in the ofFmg. And others. There is paradise 
in it — an odd sweet dubious paradise. But what's 
the use — ?' 

It's that what's-the-use, born of the lower vantage- 
ground and the closing-in shadows, that chiefly 
makes me lonely — lonely to a desperateness and on 
through to a ruinous calm. 

It is this metaphysic loneliness which breeds in me 
one constant reasonless restless urgent motif: to 
Express me: not of-the-past except desultorily, not 
of-the-future save indiff'erently: but of my low- 
toned, low-echoing now. Until I've Expressed me 
there's no setting open the gates of my spirit to a 
passer-by, though the passer-by should be a poet- 
in-the-flesh, a god, an angel with a torch. 
Four-and-twenty turbulent moods may break over 
me in a day, or four-and-twenty passive ones, or 
four-and-twenty someway joyous ones. But like 
the theme in a fugue this loud tranquil recurrent 
need to Express me transcends them all. 
It is a big voracious part-human bird of prey. Of 

72 To express me 

it too I say what's-the-use. But it is a need without 
a use, a need scornful of use. It springs uncon- 
ceived, unsourced from inside me. It rises from the 
ashes of blightingest moods and beats its bruising 
strong wings against my face. 

It says: *Know me, defer to me. Slim- woman. 
Serve me, follow me, gather-in all your answers for 
me. Do this though I undo you, though I rend you, 
tear you with my sharp teeth so like a woIPs. 
When youVe answered me I may let you go. Until 
then, turn to me. Tell me: tell me again and 
again. Utter yourself. Interpret. Unfold.* 
It makes my life-space someway sweet, someway 
heartbreaking, someway frightful — strewn with dust 
of broken stars. 

I live long hours of nervous profound passionate 
self-communion. I discover strange lovely age- 
worn facets of my Soul. I discover the subtle 
panting Ego — the wonderful thing that lives and 
waits in its garbled radiance just beneath my skin. 
To ask oneself and make answer out of oneself is 
the most delicious of this life's mental delectations. 
I might have missed it but for those beating bruising 
wings against my face, now and years ago: for 
expressing breeds the last Expressions. 
I might have gone on through years and decades 
and lumps of months knowing at best a little of 

To express me 73 

some rare person, a little less or more of another rare 
person, a little of a musician's soul in a nocturne, 
a little of a dead poet's splendors. But to Me and 
my own fine spirit-relationships to those things I 
could remain, but for my radiant flawed egotistic 
interpreting, eternally strange. 
But for it Vd not have the wit to perceive the one 
human being in the world I may know with vitalness : 
my own Self. I should drop into my grave at last 
without a good-by to the glowing one who was locked 
just inside, whose hand I'd never clasped, whose sad 
prescient eyes I'd never looked in, who was then 
flitting out and on and away. 

It is a being cruel and transfiguring and terrifying: 
terribly worth clasping close and breathing with. 
And some days it sleeps, sleeps like the dead: it is 
delicater than rose- vapors before the dawn: a sun- 
blown faery thing. 

When it sleeps I'm left alone. Then comes a doubt- 
ful dreadful quiet, a hefl of dumbness that only God 
could reach. 
It is as if neither God nor I attempts to cope with it. 

74 Bastard lacy valentines 


THE thing I admire most is strength. The 
thing I most hate is Weakness, of each and 
every kind. 
All the reassuring things in the world are in and of 
the strong deeds done in it. All the mischief and 
despair come from human Weakness, 
I would better strongly murder my foe than forgive 
him Weakly for my seeming advantage. I would be 
happier in my mind as a careful charwoman than as 
a loose-jointed poet. I would rather have a farthing's 
value as a faithful concubine than no value as a 
slattern housewife. 

Strength repays itself with strength — and with 
magnificence. . 

Truth is strength nearly always: and not always. 
To cheat strongly in the life-game gets me more than 
does Weak easy honesty. By being a strong man 
Napoleon brought home the bacon. Being an 
honest one would have got him not one rasher of 
the bacon of bis desire. The race is too ridden with 
* temperament' to let truth be its prevailing force. 
But strength plows its scornful way through tem- 
perament like a steam-shovel. The bacon Napoleon 
brought home he took from other people, causing 
them misery. They were Weak and let him take 

Bastard lacy valentines y^ 

it, or they were strong and got killed trying to keep 
it. To get killed trying to keep your bacon is to be 
even stronger than the Napoleon who lives and takes 
it from you. Those who sit still and let Napoleon 
get their bacon are fit only to be themselves made 
into bacon. 

Truth belongs with love, with friendship, with 
charity, with psychic lovingkindness ; with all the 
altruistic graces and tendernesses. 
But in the mere grinding livingness of things it is 
to be strong. I say to Me, *Mary MacLane, be 
strong: whether you're living joyous on a hill or 
mournful in a valley, make shift to be strong.' 
In which paragraphs I make an apologetic preamble 
to Me when about to dwell on my odd ironic element 
of Weakness. My Weakness is not an art nor a 
, science nor a gift nor a trait but is a sort of ruinous 
trade touched with all of those, a trade at which I 
work and lose heavily from a viewpoint of personal 

In Atlanta-Georgia lives a man with whom I ex- 
change semi-occasional letters. He is thirty-nine 
and clever and what is called a business man. He 
is a business man not only by circumstance but by 
nature. At a glance one would picture him in the 
setting of an office in a steel-and-brick building 
with a roll-top desk, a swivel chair, a cabinet full 

76 Bastard lacy valentines 

of files, a stenographer with an unregenerate vo- 
cabulary, and stationery neatly engraved with his 
name, his business, his cable address and his tele- 
phone number. The look of the neat letterhead 
and the fibrous feel of the bond paper give one 
the idea that whoever went into a business venture 
with him would come out of it disadvantageously. 
After another glance at himself one would infer 
that his leisure hours might be fancifully spent. 
In hours of ease some business men follow base- 
ball, others golf, * tired' ones musical comedy. 
Others take up curio collecting or some personal 
phantasm. In the latter category is my acquain- 
tance of Atlanta. He affects Mary MacLane and 
musings of her in his leisure hours. But what I am 
to him does not concern nor much interest me. 
What he is to me concerns me, for he — his letters — 
are a present source of my elaborated Weakness. 
I feel a wave of conscious Weakness washing over 
me as I write about it. His letters make a soft 
buffer, a foolish pretty window, a tinted veil between 
me and my too-harsh actualities. 
I met him when I lived in New York. He had read 
the book I wrote in the early nineteen-hundreds and 
at meeting me he conceived a thinly insistent admi- 
ration which someway went to his head. He has at 
intervals since then written me letters full of charmed 

Bastard lacy valentines 77 

and salubrious flattery and of appreciation and praise 
for traits and gifts and qualities which I do not 
possess. They appeal and cater remarkably to my 
vanity — and are pleasant and unreal and vain and 
fatuous and fond and piquant. 

He is a clever man and does not make love to me. 
A butcher 's-boy may write love-letters — and Td 
prefer those of a butcher's-boy to those of a business 
man : they would be more sincere and less hopelessly 
discreet. But this business man is discerning and 
intuitive and writes me no love. His wife — a 
business man always has a wife — could not rationally 
object to what is in the letters, though she would 
irrationally and naturally object to the letters 
themselves. She is unloving and unloved — they 
always are — but whatever may be her caste (I know 
only that she is tall and blonde and named Bertha) 
she doubtless would find something superfluous in the 
idea of her husband's letters to me. 
A letter comes from him in Georgia after I have 
written him a brief disquieting one with a latent 
human appeal in it to make him think the chief 
thing I need in life is his appreciation, his attitude 
toward me, to brace my spirit. Then his comes, 
written in his small slanting commercial hand. It 
is arresting from any angle and well thought, well 

78 Bastard lacy valentines 

In it he tells me that my brain, scintillantly brilliant 
though it is, needs the dim twilights of other brains 
such as his to catch the sparks it throws off. 
Which is a lie. My brain is not scintillantly brilliant 
and it 'needs' nothing. But the lie is agreeable to 
read. There is a gentle caressingness in its untruth 
which feels someway soothinger than any flattering 

And he tells me my chief attraction as an individual 
is my ability accurately to gauge another individual 
and to breathe myself graciously out to it and upon 
it while pretending to be immersed in my own ego. 
Which is another lie. Immersed in my own ego is 
never a pretense with me, and I have not gauged — 
in the sense of weighing and measuring — another 
individuality except to hate it. But it is piquantly 
restful to hear that I am thus benign. 
And he tells me that though several years have 
passed since he and I took leave of one another he 
has never forgotten that last parting because it 
was like the passing of a little weir-woman who 
brushed him lightly with her garments as she went. 
Which is another lie. My association with him was 
in brief meetings at hectic studio tea-fights and two 
noisy dinners at Churchill's, at all of which I frowned 
impatiently at his tiresome conversation. And his 
leave-taking with me consisted in his sharpening 

Bastard lacy valentines 79 

a lead-pencil — beautifully he sharpened it — for me 
to write a telegram with. It was not until this 
correspondence that we established an unreliaP^Ie 
intimacy. But to be told I seemed a weir-woman 
to a hard-headed business man who could doubtless 
cheat a client out of four thousand dollars easily in 
a half-day's maneuvering is oddly inspiriting. 
And he tells me he is highly privileged to be permitted 
to gaze in at the mezzo-tinted windows of my soul, 
which are surely curtained against the passing 

Which is another lie. He has never remotely 
glimpsed my tired Soul in the firmly false little 
letters I've written him. As to its being a privilege 
if he had: it is the proletariat, it so happens, who 
have first chance at those windows, which are not 
mezzo-tinted but made of the plainest of plain glass. 
But the conceit tastes mellow and naif and bromidic 
and appetizing to me, like cream and raspberries in 

And he tells me the most delightful thing in the 
world would be to live near me and have a season 
of daily meetings — meetings of astral selves upon a 
* higher plane' whereon we should exchange those 
flowers and fruits of the spirit which grow not from 
the soils but from the esoteric essences of life: — 
that sort of thing. 

8o Bastard lacy valentines 

Which is another lie. No possible man (except a 
Poet whom I loved — or perhaps a scientist — ) 
could find me delightful for more than two con- 
secutive meetings — I develop something like temper 
— and I care for no higher planes except in airships. 
As for esoterics — I would fainer exchange musings 
anent over-shoes than over-souls. And my spirit 
bears in fertile earthy soil chiefly thistles from which 
men gather no figs. But it gives me a warmish 
feeling, similar to a hot-water bottle between my 
shoulders on a winter night, to read that picturesque 
palaver written to me in my slim scorn by him in 
his springy swivel chair. 

Thus it goes. His letters are made all of softest 
quaintest lies which I know to be lies the moment 
my gray gaze falls on them. All his premises in 
regard to me and his deductions from them are 
roundly lightly mistaken. But I like that fluent 
flattery the more because it is so false. I am too 
vain a creature to want to cope often with truths 
even though they might be uplifting self-Iauding 
truths. My vain peculiar Weakness demands as 
wefl semi-occasional collations of creamed lies upon 
which it feeds like a sleek cat on creamed fish. My 
humor enters into it, in no obvious way but eerily 
like a gay ghost. My humor is a strong influence in 
me. It is stronger than my pride and anger and 

Bastard lacy valentines 8i 

fear and caution and reverence and self-love — 
stronger than most things I own. 
And it's for reasons of pastime and vanity and 
oblique humor I let letters from the business man 
come, though not often, into my solitudes. And 
I spend hours of inert time-waste conning his 
fanciful ideas. And the letters I write him in reply, 
though brief and impersonal and done in my best 
false manner, consume a surprising lot of time and 
mental and physical force to write. It is the Weak- 
ness in it which is so devouring: it eats me hungrily 
and lingers about like a buzzard, picking my bones. 
A spinelessly Weak game. I hate its Weakness more 
than I like its pleasant futility. I hate it and myself 
in it all the time I'm dwelling on it. I hate it as I'd 
hate a little drug habit fastened on my nerves. 
Its influence is the same but more insidious than a 
drug would be, more demoralizing. As feeling fear 
makes one afraid, feeling more fear makes one more 

Still once in a month, once in a two- month, I feel 
the hankering itch to be applauded for second-rate 
quahties I do not own, and I give way to it: in a 
particularly Weak way, after my sanest self has 
reduced it analytically to shreds, and after saying 
bosh! with all my selves. 
After telling Me too that it is a common-tasting 

82 Bastard lacy valentines 

game. Life is a strange music-clangor of gold bells, 
some silent, some far-echoing. And the common- 
tasting thing cracks a bell-edge. 
Then briskly I answer the last letter from Atlanta- 
Georgia and soon there comes a fresh sheaf of smooth 
velvetish lies to pad my way. 

There may come no more if this I write now should 
find its way to Atlanta-Georgia. Or if fate or 
Bertha should intervene. 

But always I know Weakness of me will find ways 
to work at its losing trade. 

It is of the dubious inevitable side of human nature 
— like gold teeth and tinned salmon and bastard 
lacy valentines 

Sweet fine sweatings of blood 83 



ERELY from the view-point of outward 
intellect this book of myself is oddly difficult 
to write. 

My most-loved thing to do and mv hardest thing to 
do is to write. 

It is hard to catch and hold with mental fingers one's 
own emotions and then doubly hard to write them. 
A feeling is something without the words and without 
even the thought. To put it into the thought and 
then into the words is a minuter task than would be 
the translating of a Frangois- Villon poem into 

It's a knowing person who realizes her own emotions 
and a knowinger who recognizes what is what, who 
is who, which is which among them. I look inward 
at Me and I see an emotion of World- Weariness and 
want to write it. I write it as nearly as I can. But 
when I have done — it's not World- Weariness that I 
wrote but its twin-sister, Boredom-of-the-Moment, 
which happened to be next the other when I looked. 
I am glad to have transcribed Boredom-of-the- 
Moment. It is the finer and thinner and more 
elusive of the two. But how and why did I fail of 
World- Weariness? 
But sometime when I aim at Fear or Resentment or 

84 Sweet fine sweatings of blood 

Surprise ft may be World- Weariness Til bring down 
unexpectedly with a clean wing-shot. 
When I set out to write the Look-in-my-Eyes it 
may be the Feel-of-my-Fingers that comes out in 
my round writing. Another time I think Fm 
writing my Bad-Tooth: until I get it written when 
it turns out to be my little Eye- Wrinkles. 
Having failed of the thought often I fail of the words. 
When I have a particularly M.-Mac-Lane thought 
to express I review the top tier of my vocabulary 
of words to find proper ones for it. They are all 
very nice words in that top-tier — neatly washed and 
dressed and hair-brushed and tidied-up, like the 
children in a small private school: words like 
Necessary and Irresolute and Crockery and In- 
convenience and Broth and Apprise: good words 
and useful if one's thought is radical or risky and 
wants conserving. I call some of them to me and 
question them and consider them and ponder a bit, 
and decide they will none of them suit. Then I go 
t© the bottom tier, the unkemptest of words in the 
untidiest attire: words like Traipse and Nab and 
Glim and Hennery and Chape and Plash. And I 
at once reject those as too carelessly bred for my 
terse thoughts to associate with. (But for my 
uncombed ungroomed grimy-faced thoughts I turn 
to them.) Then I glance over a tier of mysterious 

Sweet fine sweatings oj blood 85 

words, spruce but with indefinable vagabond faces: 
such as Whelk and Mauger and Frush and Gnurl 
and Yare and Hyaline. They are expressive but of 
a kind it*s well to use with caution, the kind that 
may trip up thoughts that would make them their 
medium and lead to slips 'twixt cups and lips. So 
I dismiss them with a mental reservation of one or 
two to use if I fail to find right ones among the less 
mysterious. Then I turn to a tier that represents 
the virile middle-class in words, the lower-case 
words, the mob and riot words, the words for poets 
and anarchists and prophets: such as Adroit and 
Nightingale and Gallows and Gutter and Woman 
and Madrigal and Death. And I say, 'Without 
doubt here are my words.' But I use discretion. 
I know that tier of words to be of the nature of 
bombs, of strychnine, of a dynamic force resistible 
against all human and wordly substance. They also 
must be used cautiously and with a sparing hand. 
With caution one can handle a bomb, and sparingly 
one can eat strychnine, and one can control any 
dynamic force by studying its tendencies and 
keeping out of its direct road. It behooves one to 
heed those conditions in broaching the counter- 
mining counter-irritant words if one would avoid 
blowing oneself analytically broadcast. 
So I may have found the right sort of words and 

86 Sweet fine sweatings oj blood 

measured their possibilities and pitfalls. But again : 
it's a nerve-racking task to choose out one word 
from seven, one from five, one from two. I see two 
words which may be the only proper ones out of 
ten thousand to bear my thought. The two may 
be Echo and After-glow, each an unacknowledged 
half-sister to the other: meaning respectively some- 
thing living and growing and vibrant in my spirit- 
ears, and fading and dying and radiant before my 
spirit-eyes. But because my spirit-ears may glow 
bright and hot from what they heard, or my spirit- 
eyes may seem to themselves to gaze a moment at 
a soundless sound — an Unheard Melody of Keats, — 
I miss the raylike distinction and I write After-glow 
when my true word was Echo. 
But another time I write Echo perfectly and master- 
fully to my own delight: having meant After-glow. 
So it is. There's no plain sailing on this analytic 
sea. And if there were it would be not worth while. 
I want nothing, nothing, nothing that comes easily. 
What comes easily I distrust, be it love or language. 
It afterward proves dead-sea fruit. What I suffer 
to get I know to be life-food even if it drugs or pains 
or poisons me. It is one lesson I have learned. 
Without doubt it is so with everybody, all around. 
One sees only surfaces, husks. Anyone looking 
casually at this Me sitting writing might say, *How 

Sweet fine sweatings oj blood 87 

easily and smoothly and well she writes. How kind 
of God to give her so light a task in life. How 
complacently go her working hours.' And I looking 
casually at — oh — Miss Lily Walker singing and 
swaying and glancing sideways in a gorgeous Broad- 
way chorus — I might say, *How easy a task in life 
has that brainless gazelle. To work with her body 
and not even with the sweats and sinews of it like 
a scrub-woman, and not with the facile shames of 
it like a lorette, but with the grace and suppleness 
and beauty and suggestions of it, aided by a soprano 
throat and a soprano face — with only the effort it 
wants to fling it all over footlights. And that 
pastime gets her her livelihood.' 
But whoever marks me writing as one doing an easy 
task because I write along rapidly enough considers 
nothing of my mental travail for the thought, my 
blind grope for the language, my little nervous 
anguish of choice among the double-edged and 
triple-pronged words: and the neat concise failure 
of the result. 

And no, I do not thus comment on Miss Lily Walker. 
I have an appreciative pleasure in her charm and 
suppleness and bird-and-butterfly prettiness. But 
after a bit of contemplation and analysis of her 
surface I deduce the unconscious struggle it may be 
for Miss Lily Walker to be supple on nights when 

88 Sweet fine sweatings of blood 

she does not feel supple, the thin agony of being 
sweet when she does not feel sweet, the neurotic 
torture of being seductive regularly — by the night: 
the more that perchance the struggle always is 
unconscious. Her brain being required in her body 
it*s to be assumed there*s none in her head. But I 
can deduce a nervous red heart beating illogically 
somewhere in her being protesting dumbly some- 
times against one irking item, sometimes against 
another, sometimes against all the items in Miss 
Lily Walker's scheme of life, but beating and beating 
on, like a little automatic drum wound up tight and 
tossed into a maelstrom to beat itself out. 
rd like — like with breathless eagerness — to read the 
analyzed being just beneath Miss Lily Walker's skin. 
Everybody — every human being — is wildly Real: 
radiant and desolate. — 

With no amount of temperamental struggling could 
Miss Lily Walker analyze a psychic emotion of her 
own and then find the right word-combination to 
write it in. 

With no conceivable effort of mine could I manage 
to be supple when I do not feel supple. 
So Miss Lily Walker and I are quits at this game. 
It totals up evenly, all ways around. 
Nobody gets through one Real day — though it be a 
dayful of Real lies — without a demoniacal struggle 

Sweet fine sweatings oj blood 89 

of soul or a heavy blow on the personal solar plexus. 
And I make not even the intellect side of this book, 
which is a Realness to me, without sweet fine sweat- 
ings of blood. 

go Instinct — a 'first law* 


I LONG to do a Murder. 
Despite my futile way-of-Iife and my rotting 
destroying half-acquiescence in it I have a 
furious positive Murder in me. 

One near me in my daily life injures me and goes on 
injuring me in a way which is scourging and malicious 
and intensely petty. There is in it helpless humili- 
ation for me — me self-Ioving, proud and determinedly 
unsuppliant — ^and it makes maddening Murder rise 
in me. 

I don't know why I do not do the Murder. I have 
nothing to lose by paying the law-penalty: nothing 
but my life, and my life is stripped bare — ^and was 
always barren by God's decree — of all that makes a 
life sacred or lovely or precious. For long years and 
years, since child-days, I have been lost. 
I don't know why I do not do the Murder: except 
that I think of it and brood over it and turn it round 
and round smoulderingly in my Mind. From no 
choice. I have tried to push the feehng away as a 
common thing beneath me. It is beneath me, for 
I am not little but someway big. But my Mind 
will take its toll of all that confronts me. 
The humihation and the helplessness to combat 
being humiliated in me who keep a casual proudness 

Instinct — a * first law* 91 

toward people is like a secret hot sword thrust, 
and kept freshly thrust, in my flesh. It makes me 
wild to do the Murder. But it makes me brood 
over it till the red act is lost in red brooding. 
There come also thinkings. 

Murder, any Murder, is in its essence cowardly, a 
slinking meanness. And I am not cowardly and I 
am not mean. I am above malice and retaliation — 
all such impoverished impoverishing emotions. 
A shrug of my shoulders and they are satisfied. 
The impulse to hit back after a bitter wound is not 
of vengeance. It is instinct — a * first law.' But 
Murder is self-accusingly cowardly and sneakingly 
human. I can't get away from that. To take away 
a person's life is like setting fire to his house — an 
officiously stooping act. It's for me to live my life 
in aloof self-sufficience. No human malice should 
reach me in it. Then it's not for me to reach out of 
it and stain my good fingers with unpleasant sticky 
blood. I am always in a prison of radiance and 

But the mere habit of being a human being is break- 
ingly insistent — no matter how many or how few 
frocks one owns. Neither of my two dresses is a 
protection against humiliation. A thin black serge 
dress gives me to myself a melancholy cold inert 
air: but beneath the smooth-fitting breast of it 

92 Instinct — a * first law' 

comes too often a throbbing frightful to feel, fright- 
ful to know, made of fierce petty anger and abasing 
hurt. I hide it and me in my room and twist my 
hands together and walk my floor, and a hurricane 
of helpless bitter trifling woe shakes and wrenches 
me. Then Murder enters me. 

What humiliates me is an obvious common thing 
that to any human one would mean hurt and more 
hurt. Though I am determinedly brave I am 

I do not write itself because this is the book of me 
and not of people. 

It is a slight, a poor and vivid cruelness. There is 
the tie of blood in it which in all ways — from a deep 
heritage — I respect: and it rubs an added stinging 
poison in the wound. 

It is an injury I do not deserve. What I deserve I 
accept. What I do not deserve pressed on me to 
humiliate me makes Murder in me. Regardless of 
the other one — 

— it would be simpler and finer for me to do that 
Murder than to keep it in me. So many times in a 
week the trembling smothering longing to do that 
Murder beats, beats in my thin breast. To be so 
owned by a thing so small: — it is grief and despair 
and fury and wild nervous intolerableness. It strains 
my flesh — it wrenches my pulse — it blinds my eyes — 

Instinct — a 'first law* 93 

it fills my throat — 

— it would be a simpler and finer thing to do any 
Murder than to feel, even once, the strangling 
damnedness rising, rising at my throat — 

94 Loose twos 


I TAKE ft for granted God knows all about me. 
If God should read this it would not be news 
to him. 
But his knowledge of me is not immediate knowledge 
nor immediately interesting to him. He knows my 
Twos-and-Twos but he does not make Fours of 

I am formed of loose Twos which wait for God to 
make them Fours. 

I can not do it myself. When I've tried the added 
Twos come out threes, seventies, nines, twelves — 
all the mysterious numbers. Never Fours. 
Long ago I decided not to try but to wait for God. 
I juggle with temperamental and psychic Twos 
and experiment in hysteric additions. 
But it's no good my trying to make Fours. 
If God does not take it up I shall be eternal Twos. 
And I seem not greatly to care: whenever that comes 
home to me I merely light a carefree cigarette. 

Knitting or plaiting straw g^ 


THE things I know are jumbled and tangled 
into an indescribable heap inside me. 
The things I Don't Know are separated 
and ranged of their own volition in long orderly rows 
in my conscious mentality. 

The things I know glow with tints and gleams and 
will-o'-wisp lights and primal colors and waveringly 
with the blinding gold-purple lightnings of all-Time. 
The things I Don't Know glow — each one separately 
— with a small precise lantern-brightness of its own. 
Also in my wide background are things I don't know 
and am unaware of it: the mass of my luminous 
Ignorance — it shines with an earthy phosphorescence. 
When I look at the things I know I get an undetailed 
perspective of me hke a bird's-eye view of London. 
When I look at neat formal rows of things I Don't 
Know I have a clear look, as if through an uncur- 
tained window into a bare little room, at my quietest 
self sitting knitting or plaiting straw. 
I reckon up and count up and check up lists of big 
and little things I Don't Know — hke this, rapidly: 
I Don't Know what ink is made of, nor how to fire 
a Maxim gun: I don't know how to make a will: 
I don't know how to cook a prairie-chicken, nor what 
to feed a pet weasel, nor who invented the snarling- 

g6 Knitting or plaiting straw 

iron, nor what it is. 

I Don't Know what food people eat in the Himalaya 
Mountains, nor how Lord Cofwallis felt when he 
surrendered: I don't know the color of a chicken's 
gizzard, nor of sand, nor of fish-scales, nor of mice: 
I don't know whether an English cabinet minister 
needs strength of mind or strength of will, or both, 
or neither. 

I Don't Know how I hurt the true heart of my 
friend: I don't know astronomy nor solid geometry: 
I don't know what I think with: I don't know what 
ooze leather is, nor who pitched for the Tigers in 

I Don't Know a good horse from a bad horse: I don't 
know why a bat sleeps head downward, nor what 
wasps live on: I don't know how to open oysters, 
nor how to milk a cow: I don't know the Latin for 

I Don't Know whether friendship is a selfish or an 
unselfish thing, nor who discovered the medlar 
apple: I don't know what is a jab, fistically speak- 
ing, nor a punch, nor a hook, nor a wallop, nor the 
fighting weight of Packey McFarland: I don't 
know whether a moth * marries' or whether her eggs 
are impregnated like a fish's: I don't know why a 
clasp knife is called a jack knife, nor what to do 
for an aching foot. 

Knitting or plaiting straw 97 

I Don't Know how glass is blown: I don't know 
whether coal is vegetable or mineral: I don't know 
the chemical composition of the sunset vapors, nor 
how to play euchre: I don't know how many guns 
an armored cruiser carries, nor whether a gorilla 
meditates: I don't know whether I hate or greatly 
admire Catherine and Marie de Medici: I don't 
know a winch from a windlass. 
I Don't Know where is the cinnamon bear's native 
haunt: I don't know how flint is mined, nor if wire 
is made of steel: I don't know who was the better 
man — William Wordsworth or the Duke of Wel- 
lington: I don't know the advantages of tariff 
revision downward : I don't know where ex- President 
Taft will go when he dies. 

I Don't Know whether I feel more comfortable with 
or without my stays : I don't know the origin of the 
word * dogged': I don't know whether a *full house' 
is better than *two pairs,' nor whether a right merry 
heart to-day is better than a wrong contented mind 
to-morrow: I don't know whether rabbit-pie is 
made of cats in Paris, nor how many sails has a 
sloop : I don't know what makes a dead body rot. 
I Don't Know how to sharpen a carving knife, nor 
how to roll a cigarette: I don't know the real 
English meaning of the French noun *elancement*: 
I don't know whether my sex is a matter of my 

98 Knitting or plaiting straw 

genital organs or of my mental inwards: I don't 
know how to determine the contents of a circle in 
square inches, nor how to pronounce 'zebra/ 
I Don*t Know whether Edgar Allan Poe is big or 
little: rdon*t know how many soldiers fell at Shiloh: 
I don't know whether temperament or nature or 
circumstance makes one woman a happy kindhearted 
whore and another an unhappy cruel-hearted nun: 
I don't know how to grow artichokes : I don't know 
what brimstone is, nor how to play the accordion: 
I don't know what quality in me forms my hand- 

I Don't Know what-Iike was my Soul in the Stone 
Age: I don't know whether cheese is good or bad 
for my health: I don't know what becomes of dis- 
carded hairpins, nor a tooth-brush's ultimate 
destiny: I don't know the *Fra Diavolo' opera, nor 
whether anyone ever uses the word * thwack.' 
I Don't Know whether my heart breaks from within 
or without: I don't know whether *good old Marie 
Lloyd' of the London * halls' has a brain like G. K. 
Chesterton or a dexterous individuahty like a 
juggler: I don't know whether I feel spiritual bliss 
in my knees or in my spirit: I don't know why I 
breathe and go on breathing. 

I Don't Know what became of the ten lost tribes of 
Israel: I don't know how to say how-do-you-do to a 

Knitting or plaiting straw 99 

king: I don't know the exact meaning of my terror 
and despair: I don't know why I love — why I ever 
love — 

I Don't Know whether laws of chance govern a 
spinning roulette wheel and ivory ball or whether 
chance is beyond law: I don't know what kind of 
missile a Krupp gun shoots: I don't know how a 
ground-and-Iofty tumbler turns a triple air-summer- 
sault: I don't know whether I really am the way I 
look in the mirror: I don't know whether the Russian 
language has Romanic roots: I don't know what is 
the wild power in poetry. 

I Don't Know whether lust is a human coarseness 
or a human fineness: I don't know why death holds 
a so sweet lure since it would take away my Body: 
I don't know that I wouldn't deny my Christ, if 
I had one, three times before a given cockcrow: 
I don't know on the other hand that I would: 
I don't know whether honor is a reality in human 
beings or a pose : I don't know that I mayn't be able 
to think with my Body when it is in its coffin. 
I ^Don't Know what makes each day a Day of dark 
Gold and life mournfully precious: I don't know 
where is God: I don't know how they make tea in 
Ireland: I don't know how to pronounce the word 
'girl': I don't know how to make lace: I don't 
know whether I hear a sound or feel it, nor why a 

100 Knitting or plaiting straw 

spool of thread looks exactly like a Spool of Thread. 
I Don't Know — I Don't Know — I Don't Know, 
rapidly, to the end of the mystic common-place 

— those give me a clear look, as if through an un- 
curtained window into a bare little room, at my 
quietest self sitting knitting or plaiting straw — 

A life-long lonely word loi 


FLEETING times I wonder if it is my defect 
or others' that no human family tie holds 
and warms me. 
There is none. I think about it with wistfulness. 
The only tie-of-blood feeling that clings to me is of 
my warming and keeping-alive. And it is very 
feeble. It grows more feeble. 
It is a trivial matter as I look at it universally. 
But as I look at it earthlily: there would be an 
abnormalness, a lostness in one when the mother 
who bore her got from it at best but a small cool 
dislike. ' 

It makes me feel humanly lost. 
*Lost' is the shuddering life-long lonely word that 
brushes against me some nights and noons. 

102 Their voices 


EVERY day at half-past ten and half-past two 
I hear the high shrill sweet choric Voices of 
hundreds of children shaking the thin clear 

A public school is but a block from here. The chil- 
dren rush out of it, a hilarious noisy crowd, for a 
few mid-morning and mid-afternoon minutes. So 
those minutes, from hearing their Voices day after 
day, and day after day, have become lyric to my 

Their Voices stir me, rouse me, speak to me with 
old very joyous, very woful meanings. 
The children fairly leap out of the school-building 
through doors and down fire-escape stairways. 
And their Voices are at once hurled skyward, 
clamorous and chaotic. 

The Sound they make is a roundly common sound 
yet * winged.' It is an untrammeled Sound, un- 
cultivated, only a little civilized. 
It is world-music. 

In it is the note beyond culture, higher than civili- 
zation, and older. It is brave as voices of the shrill- 
ing winds and warmer, viriler. It is liltinger than 
bird-songs and lustier than roarings of mountain 

Their voices 103 

Music of the world! — 

A little door inside me opens to those Voices. 
My little door opens at the first shriek of the first 
child out of doors, and I hear not only the hundreds 
of vivid piercing Voices but more — their far-off 

They are the Voices of children, children light-held 
in crude cold innocence. The eyes of the children 
are clear — their impulses and instincts rule their 
little lives. They are yet untouched by the tiredness 
and terror and shame and sorrow of being human 

So the Sound of their Voices sweeps out resistless 
and regardless as the sea or the sun which makes 
nothing of its own strength or weakness. And 
through my little spirit-door I hear them, the 
poignant common little sweet Voices, echoing, 
flying away, farther and farther: along the roads: 
over plains and hills: through valleys long worldly 
distances from here: through streets: through stone 
buildings and dingy courts : through big rich houses : 
through homes of comfort and homes of misery and 
homes of desolate smugness: into lifeless social 
foyers: into learned places: into law-courts and 
cabinet-rooms of nations: into graveyards and 
churches and down into dead- vaults: into theatres: 
into clinics: into shops: into factories: into dives 

104 Their voices 

and stews and brothels and at lustful doorsteps: 
into hotels and on sport-courses: into market- 
places and across battle-fields, round monuments 
and in towers and in forts and in prisons and in 
dungeons: — there along fly their Voices. 
It is a brave, brave Sound, and an insistent: nothing 
stops it. 
It is triumph. 

The noise of the noisiest battle dies away in time. 
The pounding of ocean-surf on the rocks and of 
electric thunder in the clouds are lasting only with 
this earth. But brave wild Voices of children fly 
on and on, outlasting a million earths, silencing 
aeons of thunder, floating strongly back of the stars. 
The voices of men — wizards, monks, artisans^ 
thieves — echo no farther than their talking conceits : 
even of poets except as they catch up into their 
sonance something to interpret a cool gay clamor of 
child- Voices. The voices of women — singing women, 
lovely women, angelic honest women — die with 
their bodies : even of mothers of the children except 
as they follow with their own echo, by dream and 
shadow, the thronging child- Voices as they go. 
For the Sound of the child- Voices is more potent 
than wizards* — it is not cramped into thought-forms: 
more devotional than monks' because super- 
conscious; more menacing than thieves' because 

Their voices 105 

absolute. And it echoes, echoes, echoes in the 
market-place full-tongued, ringing, rising like the 
northern gale when all the other voices are long 
dead-silenced: and after. 
Music of the world. 

This moment I hear it for it is half-after two of a 
bright gold day. The air is emotional, nectareal, 
and mellow and yellow and hot-sparkling. The 
Voices pierce it like a storm of fine steel arrows. 
I at once set open my spirit-door and through it 
come the sweet shrill chorus and the marvel echo 
beginning and swelling and starting away. It 
wakes vision so that I see — quick, evil, terribly 
human, in the dazzlingest daytime colors — all those 
Places where the Voices go. 

I go to a window and watch the children running 
about beneath the high tide of their Voices. And 
they and the school-building and the streets and 
stone walls show in duller colors than the Places 
where their Echo goes. 

— small girls with clipped hair and bloused cotton 
frocks, taller girls throwing a basket-ball, thin- 
legged little girls playing hop-scotch, groups of 
varied sizes with rainbow ribbons in their hair, 
confused masses of knitted sweaters and fat white- 
stockinged legs and shiny leather belts and ankle- 
strapped shoes, and little young shoulders and knees 

io6 Their voices 

and waistlines — restless and kaleidoscopic — 
— and confused boy-groups — little fellows in suits 
misnamed Oliver-Twist, larger boys of serge-Norfolk 
persuasion, types of the generic knickerbocker at 
once motley and monotonous — all with the strong 
sturdy calves of their legs clad in a time-honored 
kind of black ribbed stockings, all with the same 
breed of ties and collars and short-cropped hair, all 
with the tacit air of confessing themselves the most 
serenely cruel of all animals — 
A careless conscienceless happy mob. 
It is the Sound of their Voices that invests them with 
the terrifying Power, the long world-sweeping Force 
as of spirit and matter merged, the human radio- 
activity not evil and not good, stronger than all 
evil and all good. 

Those children I look at must cease to be children, 
and must lose their Voices and grow into monks and 
thieves and singing women — must turn into persons 
— * Romans, countrymen and lovers. ' 
But will come after those another chorus: the same 
chorus: the same Voices. 

The brief yellow mellow minutes have passed and 
the last shout has been silenced and the hundreds 
of children. Rainbow Hair-Ribbons and Black 
Ribbed Legs, are again gathered into the McKinley 

Their voices 107 

And my little door is shut again; that door opens 

but for those Voices. 

The Voices: their echo flying everywhere flies here 

into my still room: and it stirs me, rouses me, 

speaks to me with the old joyous woe. 

Music of the world. 

io8 My damns 


I BEAR the detailed infliction of being a person 
with a tired mixture of patience and indifference 
and scorn. 
I say on Monday, Damn the ache in my left foot: 
on Tuesday, Damn that rattling window — I hate 
it: on Wednesday, Damn this yellow garter — it*s 
too tight: on Thursday, Damn my futile Hfe: on 
Friday, Damn the soHtude: on Saturday, Damn 
these thoughts : on Sunday, Damn my two dresses. 
But I pronounce each day's Damn in a half-per- 
functory half-preoccupied tone, more from duty and 
fitness than from conviction. I intently mean each 
Damn, but the scornful indiff'erent patience which is 
my spirit-essence leavens each one. I swear at my 
Hfe*s perversities with only a fatigued contempt due 
partly to bodily fragileness but mostly to a cold 
continently reckless mood which is clasped on me 
like a strong stupefied devil-fish. In this mood I 
should murmur the same gelded Damn if I found 
myself penniless and foodless in strange streets : if I 
became suddenly deaf: if my Body were being lashed 
with whips or raped by a Mexican bandit. I should 
murmur the same worn Damn if I were this moment 
on a gallows with the rope around my neck and life 
were dearly madly precious. 

My damns 109 

I mark that with my musing regrets. I remember 
in the strong young furies of eighteen each new day 
of my life was filled with passionate poetic blas- 
phemy, protests and rebellions of youth. Those 
were not tired, not acquiescent, not indifferent to 
slings-and-arrows, but firey-blooded quick-pulsed 
breathless brave young Damns. 
There is splendor in being brave in a fighting attitude, 
but in being brave through indifference there is no 

But it is only toward calamity and adversity and 
worldly untowardness that I feel indifferent. Fight- 
ing blood is stirred in me if not against the hated 
things then for the loved things. I could fight and I 
could die, and love it, to save poet-lusters, poet- 
fineness, poet-beauty from the world's flat griefs. 
In that, which I feel warm and real and sparkling 
in my blood, in some splendor for me. 
— and also I could die for my country: and there is 
fighting hatred stirred in me against its foes — 
But in poetry there is nothing that evokes a lusty 
curse against its vulgar adversaries. Poetry floats 
too high upon its dazzling wings. I get delicately 
drunk from watching it tiH I can see the wings* 
Gold Shadow touch its foes and magically split 
them into dust-atoms. 
So then the morale of my Damns remains per- 

no My damns 


But they are apt and useful. They fit into the 
nervous rhythms of my life. They mark time in my 
spirit's flawed action. I begin each day with a 
Damn of sorts. I end each day with a Damn of 
sorts. At midday sometimes it's, *Damn the terri- 
fying ignorance of people.' In the dusk a deep-felt 
Damn of the blood. In the night another. And 
at my late eating time a negligible Damn. 
A wonderful word, Damn. It means enough and 
not too much. It means everything in life, and 
roundly nothing. 

Without Damn my day would lack tone. Damn 
richly justifies each pronouncement of itself in word- 
value, substance-value and musical resonance. 
It harms nobody and it helps me. It destroys noth- 
ing and it strengthens me. It damages my an- 
noyances and mends me somewhat. 
But — perfunctory, desultory, tiredly insolent, it 
would be thrilling to think the hot fire would 
sometime be back in my Damns. Better that than 
Youth's faith in my dreams. Better that than the 
jeune-fille beauty in my hair. Better than even 
Youth's ichor in my veins: Youth's fire in my 
Damns — 

But there is dearness in this mood, which is indif- 
ferent and scornful and slightingly patient, though 

My damns 1 1 1 

it wants splendor. Let my Damns be always brave, 
always contemptuous of disaster to me, and they 
will be first-water value though their kind alter 

112 To God, care of the whistling winds 


THIS morning came a letter from a half- 
forgot friend in London. She is in vaudeville 
and has been booked for two months in the 
Music Halls. Her letter is of a tenor productive 
of a letter in turn. But I am somehow not free 
to write letters to friends while Tm living in my 
two plain dresses. So I wrote this letter to God 

19th November. 
Dear God: 

I know you won't answer this letter. I'm not sure 
you will get it. But I have the feeling to write you a 
letter, though it should only blow down the whist- 
ling winds. 

I haven't a thing to ask of you: no prayer to make. 
I am not suppliant nor humble nor contrite. Nor 
would I justify myself as a person in your eyes. 
I scorn to try to justify myself. What I am I am. 
If I am a bad actor I take the results of it without 
plaint. I comment on it — why not? — since cats 
may look at kings and each person inherits four-and- 
twenty hours a day. But I am bewildered and 
distraught and sad. 

The best you do for me, God, when I think of you — 
you personally — is to make me bewildered and dis- 

To God, care of the whistling winds 113 

traught and sad. 

But I've imagined I could put myself to you as a 
proposition to take or to leave as you like: on my 
terms since I do not know yours. 
There are some verses — ^the Rubaiyat — in which you 
are upbraided as if you might be the dealer in some 
gambling game who had the long end of all the 
wagers and still so protected his money that he 
could not lose however the cards turned. — 'from 
his helpless creature be repaid pure Gold for what 
he lent him dross-allayed.' — *thou who didst with 
pitfall and with gin beset the Road I was to wander 

But to me that seems a cheap attitude toward you, 
God. I admit you are fair. If I thought you weren't 
my mind would not vex itself with you at all. I can 
not make you out a crooked dealer nor one who 
lends out bad money and demands good money in 

But you are reticent and cold-tempered and un- 
interested. So it seems. The necklace which you 
gave me so long ago, made of little curses, I wear 
always round my spirit-neck. It serves some pur- 
pose, perhaps, and it answers as a keepsake: so at 
least I may not forget you whether or not you for- 
get me. I don't ask any more of your attention nor 
anything more of you than I would be willing to 

114 To Gody care of the whistling winds 

give you in return. But I wish you would be willing 
to exchange attention with me. I am lonely. I am 
terrified. I am frightfully overshadowed by myself 
and my odd aloofness and my thronging solitary 
emotions and my menacing trivialities. I am always 
fearing not that I may be wicked or immoral or 
aUied with evils — I don't really care a tinker's 
curse about that — but that I may be growing petty 
and trivial and weak. It is horrible, horrible to feel 
that I may be a weakling — you, God, may not know 
how horrible to me. It is like black annihilation for 
all eternity when my Soul longs frantically, desper- 
ately to live. I feel weakness to be the only im- 
moralness — hateful and vile in whatever aspect. 
I want to be strong to endure and to live in noonday 
lights and to overcome my poorness. I want, 
though Fm far from it, to be brave and big. What 
I admire you for, though you're so far off and strange 
and inexplicable, is that you are strong. You are 
Strength, you are Light, you are the Solution and the 
Absolute. You'd hardly know what weakness is if 
it did not so crop out in this human race you made. 
This human race is a faerily beautiful thing: star- 
flaming poets have sung in it: lovely youth has 
breathed upon it: happy wild hearts have informed 
it. But the odd keynote of it all is weakness. And 
I have felt me tuned overmuch by that keynote. 

To God, care of the whistling winds 115 

— but I won't be weak, I won't be, I won't be, God! 
Whether you pay attention or not, whether I breathe 
only futileness, I will be strong, strong, strong in 
myself — strong if only in my falseness — strong and 
strong again — 

This would be your chance with me if you cared to 
take it: because I own now just my plain two dresses. 
When I grow out of this quiet mood — (if ever I do: 
I begin to doubt it) — I shall have more dresses, 
and then I shall think about them, God, and the 
phases of life they'll build up around me, and not 
about you. It's not that pretty frocks would take 
my attention away from you if you once claimed 
it. Once you claimed my attention it would be 
yours forever. But pretty frocks would mean I 
am again walking in paved peopled roads. Being 
there without your attention I shall go where my 
garments may lead me forgetful of you. One's life 
is of the flavor of one's clothes: *the wine must taste 
of its own grapes. ' 

Now feels like a fitting time for you to be personal 
with me, to give me a sign that you know I'm here. 
I know I am blind and ignorant about that. You 
may know a time that shall be more fitting, a time 
when my still mood and two dresses are long gone 
and my life is made of fluff and hghtness so your 
sign will crash into it like a black two-ton meteor. 

Ii6 To God, care of the whistling winds 

I only tell you how it seems. If you should come now 
and speak to me I should feel suddenly glad. To-day 
feels such a day-of-God. The sky is all wet silver 
and the air a thin cloud of gold. I sit writing you by 
my window, often looking out with my forehead 
resting against the cool pane. There is an ache in 
my forehead, in my insteps, in my backbone and 
in my spirit. By stopping in here a moment you 
would gladden me. If you could give me, or show 
me — where it perhaps had always been — one true 
thing to have always in my life I should cling to it and 
ask nothing of it but that it remain true. If you'd 
make me one far-off promise of a dawn to come 
after this tired darkness I would take your word for 
it and would walk toward your dawn in a straight 
road from which I should not ever turn aside. In me 
is a small torch glowing though set in chaos. By its 
light I should keep in the road leading to your dawn. 
I should keep in it at any sacrifice to my merely 
human self: any sacrifice, believe me. 
It isn't a bargain I would make with you. I don't 
like the thought of a bargain with you. I would 
rather take the chance and lose honestly: not in 
everything but in this matter with you. You show 
me the road and I take it for the sole reason that 
it's a true one. I should expect myself to pay the 
tolls — heavy ones since I'm innately a liar, a some- 

To God, care of the whistling winds 117 

way bad lot. I know, the same as I know one and one 
make two, that IVe only to be square in the human 
business of living to get back a square deal, though 
ril get badly battered, with it. But it isn't what 
I mean. Something inside me hungers for answer- 
ingness — a Gleam — to make me know the worldly 
squareness and the battering are worth while beyond 
themselves: but a detail in the game. 
You mightn't guess it but I am diffident about 
broaching this much that may sound like a plea, 
so ril say no more of it. 

But before I close the letter I want to tell you that 
I'm not wanting in gratitude for the terrible beauty 
of this world. I feel with ecstasy the burning love- 
liness of the life you give the human race. 
I want to tell you thank-you for some things in it. 
But all that they mean I can not tell in words. 
Only yesterday a light at sundown lingered on the 
hill-tops and on the desert back of the School of 
Mines in tints of Olive and Copper and Ochre and 
Rose so delicate, so radiant, so dumbly forlorn that 
I closed my eyes against it all as I walked along the 
sand: its aliveness, its realness, its flawless golden 
dreadful peace tortured and twisted and too-keenly 
interpreted me. 

And one summer day in Central Park in New York 
I saw a little Yellow- Yellow Butterfly fluttering 


To Gody care of the whistling winds 

above a small plot of brilliant Green-Green Grass in 
the afternoon sunshine. To you, God, used to the 
purpling splendor of untold worlds that mightn't 
seem noteworthy. But to me — because I am half- 
sister to so many trivialities the Yellow- Yellow of 
those little wings and the sweet bright Green of the 
clipped velvet Grass beneath the sun suddenly 
fiercely entered in and beat-beat hard on my imagi- 
nation. O the glare and the flare of that fairy 
prettiness! I shall never forget that picture though 
I should one day see those worlds. It made me think 
wildly of you, God, at the time — and ever since* 
It is there yet in Central Park, that particular plot 
of Grass, and if not that Yellow- Yellow Butterfly — 
happily, happily YeHow it was — then another! 
And to-day and often other days I read this — 
'Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are 
sweeter ' — 
— magic words: potent hushed wizardry of beauty. 
It opens the doors of all the Inner Rooms and more 
blest, more precious, of the celestial brain of him 
who wrote it. In making the glimmering Purple of 
all your worlds, God, you have not surpassed the 
thing you made in the regal wistful glory of John 

And two nights ago I went close to my glass and 
looked deep into my own dark gray eyes, and they 

To God, care of the whistling winds 1 19 

were beautiful. Their color is the gray not of peace 
but of stormy sky and clouded sea. Their expression 
is alien and melancholy and they are never without 
circlings of fatigue or stress. And when I meet their 
glance they mostly accuse and condemn and con- 
found me. But two nights ago they grew wide and 
deep and breathless-looking at realizing me human 
and alive. And presently I saw, back of their gray 
iris — my Soul: like a naked girl: like a willow in 
the wind: like a drowning star at daybreak: an 
inherent inexpressible grace — my Soul of many ages. 
And this moment another little memory, God, 
of a tropic marsh a little way back from the sea on 
the island in the bay at St. Augustine, as it looked 
in the wane of one sun-flooded February day. In 
the marsh were tall waving feathery salt-marsh 
grasses, and little pools of murky water. And there 
were snail-shells and ancient barnacles and smooth 
beach pebbles. And bordering the pools were reeds 
and flags and tiny wax-petaled death-white lilies. 
By a mound of wet moss was a slim wild blue heron 
standing on one leg and staring about and preening 
its blue feathers. And over aH the scene was a 
Pink-Pink Flush. The curving quivering tops of 
the long grass were Pink with it. The pools were 
dull Pink mirrors. The barnacles, the pebbles, the 
death-white lilies were as if a thin bloody veil had 

120 To God, care oj the whistling winds 

been flung down on them. Pink touched the heron's 
wings, its beak, its head, its glittering beady eyes 
and spindly leg. The sinking sun shot a Pink 
broadside of dream-dust all over the marsh: it 
lingered and hung and floated. Almost I could have 
reached out my two hands and gathered a bouquet 
of Pink Flush. The stillness, which was intense, was 
Pink stillness. O but it was pleasant, pleasant, 
pleasant, God — it wrapped me in a scarf of Pink 
sweetness: it filled my throat with Pink honey: 
it laid on me a gentle eager quiet covetous Pink 

Nobody knows how you do it, God. But it is all — 
Sunset Tint, Yellow-Yellow Moth, Conscious Soul, 
Poet- Flame — maddening and precious and terrifying 
and transfiguring to me who live among it. I cherish 
it as a lonely one may who loves it with passion and 
is never happy in it. And for it all I thank you, 

God. ^r . T 

Yours very sincerely, 
Mary MacLane. 

I wrote the Letter on my long-unused monogram 
note-paper to please my whim, and put it in the 
envelope and addressed it to God, care of the 
Whistling Winds. He may receive it — what do I 
know? — only he knows, and is reticent. 
I only know he'll not answer it. 

A working diaphragm 121 


1AM not Respectable nor Refined nor in Good 
I take a delicate M.-Mac-Lane pleasure in 
those facts. 

I doubt if they are anyway peculiar to me, but they 
feel like a someway delicious clandestine cir- 
cumstance: something to enjoy all to myself. 
It is difficult to imagine any woman really Respec- 
table on her inner side, the side that is turned toward 
herself alone. And it's certain no woman is Refined: 
it feels not possible. (There are yet inland places 
where the word is used in its smug sense and believed 
in.) And no woman but a dead woman in her coffin 
is in complete Good Taste. Every live woman has 
for instance a working diaphragm: and in a dia- 
phragm there is, in the final analysis, simply no taste 
at all. 

(As for men — except poets — I mean poets: and 
perhaps scientists — they are so ungenuine: a race 
of discreet cautious puppets: wooden dolls who 
move as their strings are pulled: with nothing so 
real about them inside as even outside — what use 
to dwell upon them?) 

Nearly all women are perplexingly interesting as 
human beings. And I am quite the most interesting 

122 A working diaphragm 

human being I know: and with it the most appealing, 
the most sincere — in my own false fashion, and the 
most bespeaking. 

It is much due to knowing and feeling me to be 
not Respectable nor Refined nor in Good Taste: 
I>articularly to being not in Good Taste. 
One autumn evening in Boston I went to dine with a 
man in his apartment in Beacon Street. He is a 
mining engineer whom I have known since we were 
both children. He had bidden me to dinner in his 
off-hand engineering way, but when I arrived at 
his diggings he was not there. He did not come. 
Instead there was a dinner waiting, a Japanese boy 
to serve it, and a strange man who had happened 
in. The strange man had iron-gray hair, a brow 
like Apollo, a jowl Hke Bill Sikes and much conver- 
sation. He said that he was newly from China, 
South Africa and Egypt and that in his hfe he had 
been married seven times with book and bell. 
Together we ate the dinner, talking pleasantly in 
the Hght of colored Chinese lamp-shades. There 
were little birds to eat and Chinese wine to drink — 
sam shu distilled virilely from rice: always a little 
of it is too much. After the dinner we were standing 
by a teakwood sideboard and the strange man was 
holding me tightly in his arms against a large smooth 
evening panel of shirt-front, and he was kissing my 

A working diaphragm 123 

mouth with a great deal of ardor. I did not like it. 
I thought of all the women he had married and 
wondered if they had liked it. And I mused in my 
placid brain, *As I was going to St. Ives I met a 
man with seven wives. ' It was the only thought in 
my mind as I waited boredly for him to have done. 
(It's no good struggling.) And that incident I 
know was not Respectable. 

And one summer day I was riding horseback up a 
steep gorge in these Montana hills. It was hot dusty 
riding. I came to a mountain stream with a beauti- 
ful little white-and-blue cascade tumbling over a 
high rock upon smooth pebbles below. I got down 
from my horse, took off my dusty khaki suit and 
all my clothes and stood under the fall of the little 
tumbling cascade, whitely naked, without so much 
as a figleafs covering. It was delectable and pagan, 
what with my quaint thoughts as I stood crouched 
beneath the sparkling splash. And I know there 
was nothing Refined in it. 

And one evening between nine and ten, a week ago. 
I was walking across the broad desert valley east of 
this Butte. It is late November and the night was 
stormy. A strong high gale swept the Flat. Pres- 
ently it rained. I was on my way back with a mile 
or two to go. It rained harder. Heavy sheets of 
black water whipped and whirled down on me and 

124 -^ working diaphragm 

wrapped me in their wet wings. I love all weather 
when it is mild and more when it is rough except 
when it bears down too hard: then I feel indifferent 
to it. As I moved along the dark road not hurrying 
and not loitering I was saying inside me, *Why am I 
going to any shelter out of this heavy wet rain? 
Why am I not a houseless beggar-woman with 
nothing gentler in all my life than this November 
storm? It is not because I deserve gentler things — ' 
And with a sudden heavy shudder I whispered, 
*I wish I were a beggar-woman! I wish I had no 
roof to cover me in this cold night-blackness. It 
would be honest: I should be stripped to my deserts. 
And I wish it were so — this drenching rain, this 
strangling wind — nothing but this — shelter, money, 
comfort, self-satisfaction, however seemingly earned, 
are dishonest — thieved. I ought to be — ragged 
beggar — bleared eyes — dirty petticoats — a foul ratty 
hole to creep into — hunger — bodily misery — all the 
portion of outcasts — As God may hear me — I'd 
eagerly tremblingly change lives this moment with 
a beggar-woman. I would — I would — !' It is a 
piece of clear inside truth about myself. And I 
know it proves me to be in poor Taste. 
Ittis a matter of attitude. Each of those incidents 
might happen to any woman — except perhaps the 
last. I have known but one girl who agreed with 

A working diaphragm 125 

me in such a feeling. And not quite that feeling. 
She had married a lot of money with a horrible old 
gentleman and had wearied of both. But the other 
two episodes could readily belong to any woman of 
esprit who might be on the outside both Respectable 
and Refined: even a woman lawyer. 
But my attitude in the incident of the strange iron- 
gray man, though in a bored way I could have 
viciously knifed him, was not a Respectable attitude. 
I was bored and fanciful when doubtless I ought to 
have been breathlessly angry. But my breathless 
anger is too rare and beautiful an emotion to waste 
on ridiculous strange iron-gray men. 
In the incident of the sparkling cascade my attitude 
was shameless: something of the sort. It is never 
reprehensible for a woman to take a cold shower- 
bath in solitude and health. But my spirit rose and 
rejoiced at my bodily nakedness and then grew 
nymph-like and figleafless on its own account. My 
sex exploited itself in mental visions, like of Leda 
and the Swan or of myself as a slim villainous Scotch 
Aphrodite conceived by a bold surprising Titian. 
And doubtless I ought to have felt timorous in the 
vast sunlit mountainside, or like a sexless child (or 
merely * hygienic ' like William Muldoon and Bernarr 
McFadden). But the quick charm of the situation 
and the heavenly anguish of the icy water, and my 

126 A working diaphragm 

lovely Body, and my odd moralless musings were 
too intriguing to expend themselves banalely. 
The wet night road and the beggar-woman wish: 
it is drearily real to me. Though I wear two plain 
dainty dresses, in a house — in me, beating, beating, 
pounding down is a cold wild heavy rain : and under 
my feet a long lonely muddy road. If they belong 
to me — well. I love Me the more for feeling them. 
And I feel them because I am not yet dead and in my 
coffin, but alive and with a working diaphragm: 
which diaphragms are in not Good Taste. 


Lofs wife 127 


TO-DAY in the afternoon I briskly manicured 
my fingernails, sitting by my gold-and-blue 
window, and I mused upon Lot's Wife. 
So many persons and incidents and events and 
adventures and episodes there are to muse upon, 
in this mixed world, dating from when it began till 
now. There's something to charm any mood. Let 
me leave the doors of my mind open and anything 
at all may float in like an errant butterfly on a 
summer's day. 

It is an entertaining world, by and large: a limitless 

Lot's Wife is to me a fantasy from the antique, 
a bit of archaic frivol to beguile me. 
When first I heard of her, from an acrid aunt of caus- 
tic humor who told me the tale tersely in explanation 
of a biblical print, I was seven years old. From that 
day to this my meditative thoughts have from time 
to time flitted backward to dwell interestedly upon 
Lot's Wife. Later when I went to an Episcopal 
Sunday-school I was pleased to find this adjuration 
in according-to-St.-Luke: 'Remember Lot's Wife.* 
There seemed no special meaning attached to it. It 
seemed like Remember Lot's Wife in any way you 
like — as it might be with a card on her birthday, a 

128 ^ Lot's wife 

useless gift at Christmas, in your prayers, or in 
retributive patriotism like Remember the Alamo, 
Remember the Maine. 
But I remember her because I like her. 
There's no name given for Lot's Wife in the brief 
biblical narrative, so I long ago named her Bella 
as expressive of the temperament and character 
that have grown around her image in my thoughts. 
Poor Bella, I ruminated as I tinted and polished my 
nails. Her life in Sodom was not entirely satisfying 
to her. Sodom was a town completely given over 
to pleasure of the physical and outward sorts. The 
dwellers lived in and for their physical senses alone. 
And Bella had it in her to care for the foods of the 
spirit. Not that she longed for them — she was not 
so conscious of herself — but she had it in her to care 
for them had they been given her. Still, Sodom and 
its ways were the best she knew and she had known 
them all her life. The roots of her temperament had 
shot down into the Sodomesque substrata. She 
fondly loved the place. 

Sodom was a prototype for Babylon or Pompeii, 
worshiping the hotness of the sun in moralless plai- 
sance, with fetes and drinkings of wine from gold 
and silver cups, and bathings in warm scented 
marble-lined pools, and anointings with oils of olive 
and palm, and dwellings among flowers of thin 

Lot's wife 129 

bright petals and birds of vivid plumage and 
fountains of crystal and rainbow, and caterings to the 
sparkle and froth of human emotions, and browsings 
amid loves and lights o' love. Can Bella be won- 
dered at for growing fond of it all, having known 
nothing substantialer? And can she rightly be 
blamed for hating the thought of leaving it for dry 
sage-brush wilds in the mountains? She did hate 
and dread that thought with all her soul from the 
moment it was made known to her that Sodom for 
its sins was booked for destruction. She had perhaps 
a fortnight in which to dread it, and a fortnight if 
given over to dread is long enough to damage 
stronger spirits than hers. 

Bella was slender and svelte, with long straight soft 
beautiful silken pale red hair and white-lidded eyes 
of grayish green. She was thirty-eight — a young 
thirty-eight. There's an old thirty-eight which 
applies to greedy school-teachers, gangrenous woman 
government-clerks, fading hard-hearted stenog- 
raphers, over-righteous woman doctors; to all 
whose virtue is ever indecently on guard. But 
there's a glory-tinted sun-kissed young thirty-eight 
which applies to sensitive high-strung generously- 
emotional women like Bella Lot. She had smooth 
hands with supple tapering fingers, an irregular 
expressive-lipped mouth like a pimpernel-bloom. 

130 Lofs wife 

firm slim feet and the quivering suggestive white 
knees of a wood-nymph. From any angle-of-view 
can she be blamed for hating to take that equipment 
away from the city-de-Iuxe which was its so proper 
setting and hiding it in the sage-brush? 
Furthermore Bella had a lover in Sodom. It is 
beyond a sane effort of the imagination that she 
could have loved that unpleasing old man Lot. 
The best and worst that can be said of him is that he 
was a fit addition to the company of the old Patri- 
archs who were for the most part an exceeding craven 
crew. The martyrs, the sages and especially the 
prophets had their splendors. But the lean old 
patriarchs — The sporting blood of all of them — in 
the sense of merest simplest courage — from Adam 
down, would hardly aggregate one drop. There are 
any number of reasons — as many as Bella had charms 
— to account for Lot's having married her. But 
what she could have seen in him to make her wish 
or even willing to be married to him is a deep mystery 
to me. It may have been his family. I believe 
Bella lacked family: she was just a person. And 
was he not nephew to Abraham? But even being 
niece-in-Iaw to Abraham himself seems insufficient 
compensation for being Lot's Wife. 
The Lots had two young daughters, one fifteen and 
one seventeen, it might be. I do not know their 

Lot's wife 131 

names — call them Ethel and Agnes. But they were 
of a recalcitrant temper and absorbed in their own 
racy pastimes among the younger youth of Sodom 
and they had no need of their mother. Besides, 
they *took after' their father. So Bella was fain to 
turn outward in search of nurturing matter whereon 
to feed her humanness. Had it been expected of 
her to play fair with the patriarch she would have 
played fair. But it was not expected of her by any- 
one in Sodom — far from it, and least of all by the 
patriarch. She was eight-and-thirty, and Lot — 
he was doubtless eight or nine hundred years old, 
after the surprising long-lived fashion of the period. 
So Bella found a lover ready and awaiting her. She 
would have found a lover in the circumstances even 
without caring to. But she quite cared to, I think. 
Everything points that way, and when one re- 
members that good old man her husband one can 
not censure her but only pity her. Be it as it may 
she had one — one as real as anything could be in 
that town of sparkling froth. 

Of the lover's identity — little is known, as the 
historians say. My fancy as I filed my fingernails 
failed me on the point. Suffice it to state that ever 
and anon as time passed in Sodom the gray-green 
eyes of Bella were gazed into with fondness, affection, 
adoration and desire: the white eyelids of Bella 

132 Lot's wife 

had showers of light kisses bestowed on them, soft- 
falling as rose-petals shaken loose in summer winds: 
the tapering white hands of Bella were caressed and 
caressing with the oddly intense tenderness of 
physical love: the pale red hair of Bella was ruffled 
and fluffed and disarrayed by the fingers of love: 
the red-pimpernel mouth of Bella was touched, 
bruised, clung to by the lips of love: the svelte 
whiteness and nymph-knees of Bella glowed as she 
broached love's arms: — and all went much merrier 
than marriage befls. In short, Befla paid herself 
with usury for the deadliness of being Lot's Wife. 
And there we have the crux of BeHa's dread of leav- 
ing Sodom and its tempered sweetness for the arid 
sage-brush hiHs and the respectively cold and hectic 
companionship of the good old patriarch and the re- 
calcitrant daughters. 

It can not be claimed for Bella that any white poetic 
fires gleamed across her soul, that any limning 
beauty shone palely from within her. The air of 
Sodom was not conducive to suchlike matters and 
Bella was no finer than her breeding and generation. 
But she was gentle and wistful and kind of heart. 
She was lovely to look at and ingenuously lovable 
in her clinging affection and disarming natural- 
ness. She was aH one could want to imagine in the 
word charming. 

Lofs wife 133 

Came the night set for destruction and the Lot 
family fled according to schedule. They fled away 
in the early damps of an autumn evening through 
the outer city gates and along a rough road faintly 
lit by a dying moon. They had three separate 
reasons for fleeing. Lot fled because he was a patri- 
arch and was given to doing craven Old-Testa- 
mentish things of that sort: Bella fled because she 
was Lot's Wife and obliged to act out the r6Ie: 
and Ethel and Agnes fled because they had true 
patriarchal blood in their veins and had therefore 
no marked inclination to remain in Sodom to be 
annihilated — 'safety first' was one of their watch- 
words. They fled in the van. Lot came after them, 
being less swift of foot. Bella lagged behind. She 
didn't want to go. Every way she looked at it she 
didn't want to go. She hated that flight for a 
thousand reasons. 

The ghastly moon shed a terror on her with its dim 
rays. The ground was hard and rutted with frosty 
mud and bruised her slender feet through her 
white buckskin sandals. 

She wore a loose ninon gown of white silk and linen 
with a gold girdle around her narrow loins and a 
gold clasp at the left shoulder. Binding her long 
hair, so palely red in the moon, was a white-and-gold 
fillet. In one hand she carried a gold-and-enamel 

134 Lofs wife 

link bracelet, a gift but that afternoon from the 
lover. Suddenly she stopped and cried to herself, 
*rm too lovely for this fate — I'm too lovely and 
beloved — the cruelty of God — : I'll not go on!' 
She thought of the gleams and colorings of Sodom. 
She quickly reckoned the cost and decided to pay it. 
She was a rare good sport, and a quaint. She looked 
back at the doomed city blazing in brimstone — 
*But his wife looked back from behind him, and 
she became a pillar of salt.' — 

As I put away my chamois-skin buffer and glass 
paste-jar through my mind floated the pensive 
burden of a by-gone French song — 

^Oh, the poor, oh, the poor, oh, the poor — dear — 

She must have made a beautiful statue, all in ghsten- 
ing salt. 

I wish I had a glistening little salty repHca of it to 
set on my desk: a so unusual, a so dainty conceit. 
Lot's Wife! 

My echoing footsteps 135 


WHILE I live so still in this life-space, 
while I muse and meditate and analyze 
everything I touch, while I walk, 
while I work, while I change from one plain frock 
to the other: in quiet hours roiled tumbling storms 
of vicarious unhopeful Passion whirl, whirl in me: 
Passion of Soul, Passion of Mind, Passion of living, 
Passion of this mixed world: in terror, in wild 
unease, in reasonless mournful joy. 
I never knew real Passion, Passion-meanings, till 
I reached thirty. It is now Fm at Iife*s storm-center, 
youth's climax, the high-pulsed orgasmic moment of 
being alive. 

At twenty the woman's chrysalis soul and aching 
pulses awaken in crude chaste Spring-cold beauty. 
At forty her fires either have subsided to dim- 
glowing coals or leaped to too-positive, too-searing, 
too-obvious flames — her bones and the filigrees of 
her spirit may be alike dry, brittle-ish. But at 
thirty her Spring has but changed to midsummer. 
Poesy still waits upon her Passions. 
My Spring has changed, bloomed, burst to mid- 

Soft electrical heat-currents of being swing and 
sweep around me. They touch me and enter my 

136 My echoing footsteps 

veins. But the liquid essences of youth still quell 
and compass them. I am at youth's climax — a half- 
sullen, half-smouldering youth which still is youth. 
My rose of life is fragrant and aglow. Its sweet 
pink petals are uncurled and conscious in the waver- 
ing light. 

Winds flutter and stir and rumple and twist those 
petals — 

To-day is a To-morrow of countless unrests. Large 
and little Passions beat at me all the blue-and-copper 
day. I walked my floor with irregular lagging steps. 
I felt menacing, dangerous to myself, dynamic as 
nitro-glycerine: and smoothly drearily sane as a 
bar of white soap. I stood at my window and looked 
long at the circling range of mountains which skirt 
this Butte. Nothing else I have looked at, of sea or 
plain or hill, aff"ected me like that chain of barren 
peaks. They are arid splendor and pale purple 
witchery and grief and lasting sadness and deathlike 
beauty and woe and wonder. Their color quietly 
stormed my eyes and blurred them with tears. 
It was a mood in which any color or gleam or thought 
or strain of music or note of sad world-laughter or 
any un-sane loveHness of poetry could enchant or 
flay or transport me to my frayed last nerve. 
There is terror in facing death on battlefields, on 
sinking ships, in black ice-floes, in blazing buildings. 

My echoing footsteps 137 

But to me no death, for I fear no death, could be 
so dreadfully pregnant with in-turning woe and 
frenzy and all intolerable feeling as facing starkly 
my futile life. 

My life is a vast stone bastile of many little Rooms 
in which I am a prisoner. I am locked there in 
solitude on bread and water and let to roam in it at 
will. And each Room is tenanted by invisible 
garbled furies and dubious ecstasies. I run with 
echoing footsteps from Room to Room to escape 
them: but each Room is more unhabitable than 
the last. There are scores of little Rooms, each with 
its ghosts, each different. 

In one Room silent voices in the air accuse my tired 
Spirit of wanton vacillations and barren lack of 
purpose and utter waste, waste, waste of itself. 
And they threaten death and destruction. I know 
that accusation and I hate it: I hate it the more for 
that it's wholly just. To escape it I run from that 
Room along a dim passage into another one. In it 
unseen fingers clutch my Heart. In their touch also 
is an accusation: of selfishness and waste and want 
of something to beat for: and in their touch is the 
savor of wild wishes and human longings and pas- 
sionate prayers for something warm and simple and 
real to rest against: and in their pressing clutching 
turbulent touch is a tormenting half-promise, 

138 My echoing footsteps 

chance-promise, no-promise: and the hovering 
inevitable threat of death and destruction. That 
too I know and hate and half-Iove : and I can't bear 
it. So I run out of that Room along a passage and 
into another. I hear my footsteps echoing as I run. 
— as a child when I ran in the early night through 
a dark leaf-lined tunnel-Iike driveway the sound of 
my own flying footsteps on the hardened gravel was 
the only thing that frightened me. I quite believed 
there were bears in the brushwood on either side, 
but fear of them never struck to the core of my child- 
being like the unknown thing in my echoing steps. 
And it is fear I feel now from the ghost-sound of my 
ghost-footsteps running, running away from the 
little Rooms. It is realer to me now than were my 
child footsteps to my child-self long ago : it is more 
definite than my hand which writes this: it is 
hideous — 

Out of a dim passage I run into another httle Room. 
In it some gray filmy threads, hke strands of loose 
cobwebs caught on ceilings, float about. They sweep 
gently against my cheeks and hands and neck, and 
cling and twine and lightly hold with the half-felt 
feeling peculiar to bits of cobwebs on the skin. 
And it torments my woman-flesh with calefaciant 
thrills fierce and goading and sweet. There also is 
the accusation, now against my Body; for tissues 

My echoing footsteps 139 

and strength wasted: for useless fires meant to warm 
human seeds to life, meant to make me fruitful, 
meant to make me bear dear race-burdens: accu- 
sation for the cosmic waste of hot objectless desire, 
for the subtle guilt of a Lesbian tendency, for an 
unleashed over-positive sex-fancy. With it too is the 
lowering promise of death and destruction. It also 
is just. But out of my borne-along helplessness in 
it comes no culpable emotion because of cobweb 
thrills and their arraignment but only a wearing 
wearying despair. I rush out of that Room in 
shrugging impatience, with only scorn for a threat of 
death, for a threat of destruction — but with a wild 
fear of my own flying steps. I hurry and hurry on 
from door to door: but it's no good. In some other 
Room my brain is anathematized from frowning 
walls as an impish demoniac power which I use with 
no good intent and therefore with bad intent: and 
again I shrink and run away. In another Room are 
all the lies I have ever told: I have told legions — 
my own pecuhar lies, gentler on me than truths: 
they dart around me in the Room like black heavy- 
winged moths, clouds of them fluttering at my fore- 
head. They drive me out shivering. In another 
Room four times when I was a not-good-sport con- 
front me in a row Hke pictures and sting me and make 
me hide my eyes: I'd rather be a leper, a beast, 

140 My echoing footsteps 

a maniac than a not-good-sport (for my own precious 
reasons) — and I rush away again. In some other 
Room — 

— the same galling torment in all the Rooms. 
Wherever I run with the echo-echo of steps there 
are Accusing voices and half-formed Prayer and 
uncertain Yearning and violent yet dumb and in- 
expectant Protest and the unfailing Threat of death 
and destruction: not earth-death but universe- 
death: death and death and death everywhere 
coming on and on: myself knowing the just note in 
it all and from it grown numb with some cold and 
restless terror. Also I know no door I run through 
with my panic-feet will ever set me free of the 
bastile except a death door: the earthly death of 
this tired Hfe — 

But it's from this maelstrom that the flashing burn- 
ing sparkling mad magic of being alive leaps out 
brilHant and barbarous — and throbbing and splendid 
and sweet. A merely human hunger comes back on 
me. Then I want all I ever wanted with a hundred- 
fold more voltage of wanting than I have ever yet 

I am all unhopeful, all unpeaceful, all a desperate 
Languor and a tragic Futileness: I am an unspeak- 
ably untoward thing. 
And already I have been seared and scarred trivially 

My echoing footsteps 141 

from standing foolishly near some foolish human 


No matter for any of it. I want to plunge headlong 

into life — not imitation life which is all IVe yet 

known, but honest worldly life at its biggest and 

humanest and cruelest and damnedest: to be 

blistered and scorched by it if it be so ordered — 

so that only it's realness — from the outside of my 

skin to the deeps of my spirit. 

It is not happiness I want — nothing like it: its like 

never existed since this world began. 

I want to feel one big hot red bloody Kiss-of-Life 

placed square and strong on my mouth and shot 

straight into me to the back wall of my Heart. 

I write this book for my own reading. 

It is my postulate to myself. 

As I read it it makes me clench my teeth savagely: 

and coldly tranquilly close my eyelids: it makes me 

love and loathe Me, Soul and bones. 

Clench and close as I will the winds flutter and stir 

and crumple and twist my petals as they will: — as 

I sit here tiredly, tiredly sane. 

142 A comfortably vicious person 


THE blue-and-copper of yesterday is dead 
and buried this To-morrow in a maroon 
I this moment saw darkly from my window the 
somber hills in their heavy spell of pale-purple and 
grief and splendor and sadness and beauty and 
wonder and woe. 

But their color brings no tears to my wicked gray 

The passion-edged mood is burnt out. 
Gone, gone, gone. 

I listessly change into the other black dress for listless 
dinnertime and all my thought is that my abdomen 
is beautifully flat and that I must purchase a new 

I rub a little rouge on my pale mouth and I idlingly 
recall a clever and filthy story I once heard. 
I laugh languidly at it and feel myself a comfortably 
vicious person. 

I pronounce a damn on the familiar ache in my 
beloved left foot and turn away from myself. 
I stick out the tip of my forked-feeling tongue at 
the bastard clock on the stairs. I note the hour on 
it with a fainness in my spirit-gizzard to dedicate 
Me from that time forth to a big blue god of Nasti- 

A comfortably vicious person 143 

ness: Nastiness so restful, humorous, appetizing, 
reckless, sure-of-itself. 

— these heUish To-morrows creeping in their petty 
pace: they bring in weak-kneed niceness, and they 
bring in doubts, and they bring in meditation and 
imagery and all-around humanness, till I'm a 
mere heavy-heeled dubious complicated jade. 

144 -^^ ^y black dress and my still room |j 


1HAVE fits of Laughter all to myself. 
The world is full of funny things. All to my- 
self I Laugh at them. I lounge al my desk in 
the small night hours, and I finger a pencil or a box 
or a rubber or a knife and rest my chin on my hand, 
and sit on my right foot, and Laugh intermittently 
at this or that. 

Ha! ha! ha! I say inwardly: with all my Heart: 

I laugh at the thought of a mouse I once encountered 
lying dead — so neat, so virtuous — though soft and 
o'er-Iong dead — with its tail folded around it — in a 
porcelain tea-pot: a strong inimical anomaly to all 
who viewed it. It had a look of a saint in effigy in 
a whited sepulcher. Looked at as a mouse it seemed 
out of place. Looked at as a saint it was perfect. 
I Laugh at the recollection of a lady I once met who 
had thick black furry eyebrows incongruous to her 
face, which she took off" at night and laid on her 
bureau. They were at once * detached* and de- 
tachable: itself a subtle phenomenon. She referred 
to her mind as her * intellects' and talked with a 
quaint bogus learnedness, and in remarkable gram- 
mar, of the Swedenborgian doctrines. Looked at 
as a person she was inadequate. Looked at as a 

In my black dress and my still room 145 

conundrum she was gifted and profound. 

I Laugh at that extraordinary tailor in the Mother 

Goose rhyme — him * whose name was Stout,' who 

cut off the petticoats of the little old woman 'round 

about, ' herself having recklessly fallen asleep on the 

public highway. The tale leaves me the impression 

that such were the straitly economic ideas of the 

tailor that he obtained all his cloth by wandering 

about with his shears until he happened upon 

persons slumbering thus publicly and vulnerably. 

Looked at in any light that tailor is ever surprising, 

ever original, ever rarely delectable. 

I Laugh at William Jennings Bryan. 

How William Jennings Bryan may look to the 

country and world-at-Iarge I have never much 


It is all in the angle of view: St. Simeon Stilites may 

seem rousingly funny to some: Old King Cole may 

have been a frosty dullard to those who knew him best. 

To me William Jennings Bryan means bits of my 

relishingest brand of gay mournful Laughter. 

The ensemble and detail of William Jennings Bryan 

and his career as a public man, viewed impersonally 

— as one looks at the moon — is something hectic as 


I remember William Jennings Bryan when his star 

first rose. It was before Theodore Roosevelt was 

146 In my black dress and my still room 

more than a name: before the battleship Maine was 
sunk at Havana: before Lanky Bob wrested the 
heavyweight title from Gentleman Jim at Carson: 
before aeroplanes were and automobiles were more 
than rare thin- wheeled restless buggies: before the 
song 'My Gal She's a High-born Lady' had yet 
waned: before one Carrie Nation had hewn her way 
to fame with a hatchet. I was a short-skirted little 
girl devouringly reading and observing everything, 
and I took note of all those. So I took note of 
William Jennings Bryan nominated for president 
by the Democratic convention in eighteen-ninety-six. 
The zealous Democratic newspapers referred to him, 
though he was then thirty-six, as the Boy Orator of 
the Platte. Looked at as a grown man, advocating 
free coinage of silver at sixteen-to-one — a daring 
dashing Democrat, he was a plausible thing and even 
romantic. Looked at as a Boy Orator he turned at 
once into a bald ai d aged lad oddly flavored with 
an essence of Dare-devil Dick, of the boy on the 
burning deck, of a kind of political Fauntleroy madly 

Long years later with the top of his hair and his 
waistline buried deep in his past he became Secretary 
of State: and at the same time a Chautauqua 
Circuit lecturer — entertaining placid satisfied 
audiences alternately with a troupe of Swiss Yodlers. 

In my black dress and my still room 147 

Of all things, yodlers. Politics makes strange bed- 
fellows and always did. But never before has the 
American Department of State combined and vied 
with the yodler's art to entertain and instruct. 
Looked at as a monologist he might pass if suf- 
ficiently interpolated with ah-Ie-ee! and ah-Ie-0-0! 
Looked at as Secretary of State he is grilling and 
gruelling to the senses: a frightful figure quite sur- 
passing a mouse softly dead in a tea-pot, a pair of 
detachable fuzzy Swedenborg-addicted eyebrows, 
a presumptuously economical tailor. 
And he entertained the foreign ministers at a state 
dinner, did this unusual man, and he gave them to 
drink — what but grape-juice, grape-juice in its 
virginity. Plain water might have seemed the 
crystalline expression of a rigid puritanic spirit. 
Budweiser Beer, bitter and bourgeois, might have 
been possible though surprising. But grape-juice, 
served to seasoned Latin Titles and Graybeards and 
Gold-Braid, long tamely familiar with the Widow 
Clicquot: that in truth seems, after all the years, 
boyishly oratorical, wildly and darkly Nebraskan. 
Looked at as an appetizing wash for a children's 
white-collared and pink-sashed party, or for any- 
body on a summer afternoon, grape- juice is satis- 
factory. In the careless hands of William Jennings 
Bryan with his soul so unscrupulously at peace, 

148 In my black dress and my still room 

the virgin grape- juice becomes a vitriolic thing: 

a defluent purple river crushing one's helpless spirit 

among its rocks and rapids. 

— a terrible American, William Jennings Bryan. 

He is for * peace at any price.' There were some, 

long and long ago, who suffered and endured one 

starveling winter in camp at Valley Forge that 

William Jennings Bryan might wax Nebraskanly fat: 

and he is valiantly for peace: at any price — 

For that my Laughter is tinged with fulfilling hatred. 

Rich hot-Iivered Laughter must have in it essential 

love or hatred. 

To William Jennings Bryan everything he has done 

in his political career must seem all right. 

It is all right, undoubtedly. Just that. 

— that Silver-tongued Boy Orator 

those Yodlers 

that Peerless Leader 

that Grape- juice — 

They come breaking into my melancholy night-hours 

with an odd high-seasoned abruptness. 

I wonder what God thinks of him. 

It might be God thinks well of him. 

But I — in my black dress and my still room — I say 

inwardly and willy-nilly, and with all my Heart 

and relishingly: 

Ha! ha! ha! 

Their little shoes 149 


OFTEN in windy autumn nights I lie awake 
in my shadowy bed and think of the 
children, the Drab-eyed thousands of 
children in this America who work in coal mines 
and factories. 

Whenever Tm wakeful and the night is windy and 
my room is dark and I lie in aloneness — a long alone- 
ness: centuries — then shadows come from far-off 
world-wildnesses and float and flutter dimly un- 
happy around my bed. They tell me tales of shame 
and tame petty hopelessness and trifling despair. 
And the one that comes oftenest is the one that tells 
of those Drab- Eyed children distances from here, 
but very immediate, who work in coal mines and 
factories. I read about them in magazines and 
newspapers, but they aren't then one one-hundredth 
so real as when their shadow floats as close to me in 
the windy autumn night. 

Once in Pennsylvania I saw a group of children, 
very Drab in the Eyes and very thin in the necks 
and legs, who worked in a mill. Their look made its 
imprint in my memory and more in my flesh. And 
it comes back as if it were the only thing that mat- 
tered as I lie wakeful in the windy night. 
The children — unconscious and smiling their small 

150 Their little shoes 

decayed smiles — they are living and being crushed 
between greed and need as between two murderous 
millstones. Their frail flesh and their little brittle 
bones, their voices and their pinched insides, the sweet 
vague childish looks which belong in their faces are 
squeezed and crunched by two millstones — squeezed, 
squeezed till their scrawny fledgeling bodies are dry, 
breathless, and are gasping, strangling, striving 
frightfully for life: and still are slowly, all too slowly, 
dying between two millstones. 

If it were their own greed or their own need — but it's 
the greed of fat people and the need of their own 
warped gaunt parents. Betwixt the two the children 
meet homelike hideous ruin. Placidly they are 
cheated and blighted and blasted, placidly and with 
the utmost domesticness. 

The most darkling-luminous thing about the Drab- 
Eyed children is that they never weep. They talk 
among themselves and smile their little dreadful 
decayed smiles, but they don't weep. When they 
walk it's with a middle-aged gait: when they eat 
their noontime food it's as grown people do, with 
half-conscious economic and gastronomic consider- 
ation. They count their Tuesdays and Wednesdays 
with calculation as work-days, which should be 
childishly wind-sweptly free. Which is all of less 
weight than the heavy fact that they never weep. 

Their little shoes 151 

They reckon themselves fairly fortunate with their 
bits of silver in yellow envelopes every Saturday. 
They are permitted to keep a bit of it, each child a 
bit for herself or himself, so that on Sunday after- 
noons they lose themselves for precious hours watch- 
ing Charlie Chaplin. Many pink-faced inconsequent 
children whose parents nurture them and guard 
them and eternally misunderstand them are less 
worldHIy lucky. But the pink-faced children often 
weep — loudly, foolishly like puppies and snarhng 
furry cubs — and wet sweet salt tears of proper 
childishness are round and bright on their cheeks 
and lashes. It's a sun- washed blestness for them: 
they're impelled and allowed to weep. But the 
Drab Eyes shed no tears — they know no reason why 
they should. There's no impulse for soft liquid 
grief in the murderous philosophy of two grinding 
millstones. And there's no time — the lives of the 
work-children move on fast. Their very shoes are 
ground between the millstones. 

— their little shoes are heartbreaking. The mill- 
stones grind many things along with little-Iittle 
shoes of children; germs of potent splendid human- 
ness that might grow bigly American in heroic ways 
or in sane round honesty: germs that might grow 
into brave barbaric beauty or warm wistful sweet- 
ness: germs that would grow into lips blooming 

152 Their little shoes 

tender and fragrant as jonquils or into minds swim- 
ming with lyrics: — what is strongly lasting and 
glorified in the forlorn divine human thing — 
crumpled — twisted forever when millstones grind 
children's little poor shoes — 

The young Drab Eyes are endlessly betrayed: their 
very color thieved. There's no reason why they 
should weep. 

But there's a far-blown sound as if ten thousand bad 
and good worldly eyes were weeping in their stead: 
with a note in it careless, compassionate and jadedly 

I seem to hear it in the wakeful windy night. And 
I hear no world-music pouring out of small throats 
of work-children shrill with woe-and-joy. The 
sound they make is a dumb sound, for they never 
weep: a ghost- wail of partly-dead children borne 
lowly across this mixed world on a stale hellish 


The sleep oj the dead 153 



HEN Fm dead I want to Rest awhile 
in my grave: for Fm Tired, Tired 

My Soul must go on as it has gone on up to now. 
It has a long way to go, and it has come a long way. 
My Soul first started on its journey somewhere in 
Asia before the dawn of this civilization. And it has 
gone on since through the centuries and through 
strange phases of Body, terrors of flesh and blood, 
suff^ering long. But it has gone someway on, each 
space of the journey taking it nearer to the journey 's- 

It is the dim-felt memory of those journeys that 
heaps the Tiredness on me now. Not only is my 
spirit Tired. Through my spirit my hands are 
Tired: my knees are Tired: my drooping shoulders: 
my thin feet: my sensitive backbone. When I lift 
my hand in the sunshine the weight of the yellow 
honeyed air bears down and down on it because 
Fm so Tired. When I start to walk on stone pave- 
ments the ache of them is in my feet before I set 
a foot on them because Fm so Tired. The pulse in 
my veins Tires my blood as it beats. My low voice, 
though I speak but rarely — it Tires my throat. My 
breath Tires my chest. The weight of my hair 

154 The sleep of the dead 

Tires my forehead and temples. My plain frocks 
Tire my Body to wear. My swift trenchant thoughts 
Tire my Mind. 

It is not the Tiredness of efiPort though I strive to 
the limits of my strength every day. 
It is not pain, Restful pain. It is Tired Tiredness. 
So when Tm dead I want to Rest awhile in my grave. 
It would Rest me. 

In the Episcopal Church they use a ritual of poetic 
beauty, full of Restful things. One of them is the 
sleep of the dead. The crucified Nazarene slept three 
days. But all others of us when we go down into our 
graves are to sleep until a Judgment Day. 'Judg- 
ment Day' is preposterous and evilly crude: there's 
no judgment till each can judge himself simply and 
cruelly in the morning light. But the sleep of the 
dead — 

— the sleep of the dead. Its sound by itself without 
the thought is Restful — 
And the thought is Restful. 

I imagine me wrapped in a shroud of soft thin wool 
cloth of a pale color, laid in a plain wood coffin: and 
my eyelids are closed, and my Tired feet are dead 
feet, and my hands are folded on my breast. And 
the coffin is nine feet down in the ground and the 
earth covers it. Upon that some green sod: and 
above, the ancient blue deep sheltering sky: and 

The sleep of the dead 155 

the clouds and the winds and the suns and moons, 

and the days and nights and circling horizons — those 

above my grave. 

And my Body laid at its length, eyes closed, hands 

folded, down there Resting: my Soul not yet gone 

but laid beside my Body in the coffin Resting. 

— might we lie like that — Resting, Resting, for 

weeks, months, ages — 

Year after long year, Resting. 

156 Stickily mad 


IT is damn-the-Smell-of-Turpentine! 
Here I happen on a damn in me which is not 
desultory but bloodily strong and alive and 

The wood in my blue-white room has been newly 
painted. For a day and a night I intermittently 
encounter and go to bed in a spirit of Turpentine. 
It bears a cruel obscure abortive message to my 

I lie wakeful in the dark and try to reason out a 
logicalness or poetry in a thing so artfully pestilential. 
But I am hysterically lost in it and my heart beats 
hysterically in it. 

I remember the inexpressible ingenuity of man: 
of white man as against bone-brained savage races. 
Every invented usefulness feels like divine witch- 
craft. A pen and a bottle of perfume and a door- 
knob and a granite kettle and an electric light: 
I have the use of each since white man is so ingenious. 
Were I a red Indian I should have only the awkward 
barbarous stupid tools my race had used a thousand 
years. I contrast the two as I lie wakeful, with a 
sense of richness and of detailed repletion and of 
material blestness. 
But at once comes the Smell of Turpentine and 

Stickily mad 157 

announces itself something outside that and differ- 

entj something stronger, something masterfuler 

than ingenuity and savagery together. It tortures 

my nerves: it burns my eyes: it lames my flesh: 

it jerks and flays and garbles my inner body. 

The ingenuity of man has produced opium and 

cocaine which would combat and hide it all behind 

a heavy curtain of stupor, with effects equally 

damaging if less grievously subtle. 

The Smell of Turpentine is a thing to bear since all 

its counter-things bring only solider evil. 

The paint was put on the wood by a dirty little man 

whom I briefly inspected as something removed 

from my range of life. In return he covertly eyed 

me. I expected my wakeful hours would be punished 

by strong new paint and be-visioned by dirty little 

men. But it is afl sheer Turpentine with a power 

suggesting nothing human nor super-natural nor 

divine. Just itself: a goblin virulence. 

In all my Soul and bones and Mary-Mac- Laneness 

it is damn-the-Smell-of-Turpentine as a bastard 

murderous hurt. 

I have an odd feeling God has no more power over 

it than have I. 

It half-calls for a different Turpentine God. 

I am shakily mad tonight, I believe, from a so slight 

sticky matter. 


God compensates me 


IT'S a Sunday midnight and IVe just eaten a 
Cold Boiled Potato. 
I shall never be able to write one-tenth of my 
fondness for a Cold Boiled Potato. 
A Cold Boiled Potato is always an unpremeditated 
episode which is its chief charm. 
It's nice to happen on a book of poetry on a window- 
sill. It's nice to surprise a square of chocolate in a 
glove box. It's nice to come upon a little yellow 
apple in ambush. It's nice to get an unexpected 
letter from Jane Gillmore. It's nice to unearth a 
reserve fund of silk stockings under a sofa pillow. 
And especially it's nice to find a Cold Boiled Potato 
on a pantry shelf at midnight. 
I like caviare at luncheon. And I like venison at 
dinner, dark and bloody and rich. And I like 
champagne bubbling passionately in a hollow-stem- 
med glass on New Year's day. And I like terrapin 
turtle. And I like French-Canadian game-pie. 
And artichokes and grapes and baby onions. And 
none of them has the odd gnome-ish charm of a 
Cold Boiled Potato at midnight. 
I can imagine no circumstance in which a Cold Boiled 
Potato would not take precedent with me at mid' 
night. If I had a broken arm: if I had a husband 

God compensates me 159 

lying dead in the next room: if I were facing abrupt 
worldly disaster: if there were a burglar in the 
house: if Vd had a dayful of depression: if God and 
opportunity were knocking and clamoring at my 
door: I should disregard each and all some minutes 
at midnight if I had also a Cold Boiled Potato. 
I love to read Keats's Nightingale in my hushed 
life. I love to remember Caruso at the MetropoHtan 
singing Celeste A'ida. I love to watch the bewitching 
blonde Blanche Sweet in a moving picture. I love 
to feel the summer moonlight on my eyelids. And 
it's disarmingly contented I am with a Cold Boiled 
Potato at midnight. 

Content is my rarest emotion and I get it at midnight 
out of a Cold Boiled Potato. 

Some things in life thrill me. Some drive me gar- 
bledly mad. Some uplift me. Some debauch me. 
Some strengthen and enlighten me. Some hurt, hurt, 
hurt. But Tm not thrilled nor maddened nor up- 
lifted nor debauched nor strengthened nor enlight- 
ened nor hurt, but only fed-up and fattened in spirit 
by a Cold Boiled Potato at midnight. 
I stand in the pantry door leaning against the jamb, 
with a tiny glass salt-shaker in one hand and the 
sweet dark pink Cold Boiled Potato in the other. 
And I sprinkle it with salt and I nibble, nibble, 
nibble. And I say aloud, *Gee, it*s good!' 

i6o God compensates me 

I liked Cold Boiled Potato at four-and twenty. 
I liked it at seventeen. I liked it at twelve. At three 
I climbed on cake-boxes in search of one. And now 
in the deep bloom of being myself I am made roundly 
replete at midnight with a Cold Boiled Potato. 
A Cold Boiled Potato — it tastes of chestnuts at 
midnight, the first frost-kissed chestnuts in the 
woods: and it tastes of rain-water and of salt and of 
roses; it tastes of young willow-bark and of earth 
and of grass-stems: it tastes of the sun and the 
wind and of some nameless relishingness born of the 
summer hillside that grew it: it tastes at midnight 
so like SL Cold Boiled Potato. 

A precious peach-colored orchid, an antique spider- 
web-like lace handkerchief, a delicate purple butter- 
fly, an emerald bracelet: I'd strive for each of those 
in an eagerly casual way. But it*s like an ogre at 
midnight I pounce on a Cold Boiled Potato. 
A Cold Boiled Potato reminds me of the Dickens 
books in which so much food is eaten cold and tastes 
so savory — even the * wilderness of cold potatoes* 
portioned to the Marchioness by Sally Brass. And 
it reminds me of the Rip Van Winkle play — *give 
this fellow a cold potato and let him go.' And it 
reminds me of Hamlet — funeral baked meats might 
include it. And it reminds me of Robin Hood's 
merry men, and Huckleberry Finn, and the Canter- 

God compensates me i6i 

bury Pilgrims, and the Prodigal Son, and all the 
picturesque wayfarers. It reminds me of the poor as 
a colorful race wrapped around with hungry ro- 
mance. It reminds me that life is full of life — rich 
and fruitful and evolutionary and cosmic: few things 
feel so cosmic as a Cold Boiled Potato at midnight. 
It makes me want as I nibble to plant a field of 
potatoes on a southern-exposed hill and hoe them 
and dig them all by myself: and give all but one to 
the poor and Boil that to eat Cold at midnight. 
I have to be very hungry to crave a Cold Boiled 
Potato, but being hungry no possible morsel of food 
can so interest me at midnight. The same potato 
hot is domestic and tasteless. The same potato 
at ten in the evening lukewarm within and sodden 
with memories of dinner, is a repellent item. At 
midnight it is all unexpected magnetism. At mid- 
night my whole being is profoundly courteous, woo- 
ingly cordial toward a Cold Boiled Potato. 
If I had only what I deserved my portion might well 
be a Cold Boiled Potato. Intrinsically it is rated low 
and I know me to be a sort of jezebel. But Fd wonder 
each midnight if whoever metes out the deserts in this 
surprising universe knew with what gust I rise at 
it — would I get it. 

Nor am I satisfied like the meek and lowly with my 
midnight supper of Cold Boiled Potato: damn the 

i62 God compensates me * I 

meek and lowly. It's a satanic delight I take in it. 
It's a sly private orgie I make of it: a pirate's 
banquet, a thieves' picnic, a pagan rite, a heathen 
revelry, a conceit all and unhallowedly my own. 
My thoughts as I nibble are set mostly on my 
villainies. No food I eat brings me so broad a 
license of feeling — a sense of freedom — as a Cold 
Boiled Potato at midnight. 

On a Cold Boiled Potato at midnight I am lightly 
valorous: call me a trickster and I'll call you a 
rotter: call me a liar and I'll call you a traitor: call 
me a coward and I'll call you another: not pug- 
naciously but gayly and serenely. 
I am then in my most bespeaking mood. Anyone 
who met me standing nibbling in a pantry doorway 
at midnight would be charmed. I would talk with 
a dainty ribaldry and offer to share the feast. 
For shadow-things piled too near God compensates 
me in unexpected midnights with a Cold Boiled 
Potato: along with it a pantry doorway to stand 
in and a little glass salt-shaker to hold in my other 

The strange braveness 163 

4 To-morrow 

IF GOD has human feelings he must often have a 
burning at the eyes and a fullness at the throat 
at the strange Braveness of human people: 
their Braveness as they go on in the daily life, with 
aching dumbish minds and disgruntled bereft bodies 
and flattened pinched gnawed hearts. 
The easy human slattern way would be to sink 
beneath the burden. 

Instead, people: I and Another and all others — 
seamstresses and monotonous clerks and lawyers 
and housewives: sit upright in chairs and talk into 
telephones and walk fast and eat breakfasts and 
brush hair: all the while marooned in a morass of 
small wild unexciting tasteless Pain. 
Of others — what do I know? 

But I might say, ' Look, God, I am not fallen on the 
ground, from this and that — utterly lost and down. 
But sitting, drooping but strong, in a chair, mending 
a lamp-shade — neat, orderly and at-it in my misery.' 

164 Just beneath my skin 


THIS I write is a strange thing. 
So close to fact: so far from it. 
So close to truth: so surrounded by lies. 
It does not contain lies but is someway surrounded 
by a mist of lies. 

A strange thing about it is that it is expressing the 
Self Just Beneath My Skin. 

That Self is someways trivial and outlandish and 
mentally nervous, flightly, silly — silly to a verge of 
tragicness. I know that to be true from a long 
acquaintance with me. It is oddly intriguing to 
read over some chapters and find it shown. 
Some unconscious exact photography aids my writing 

Some chapters are bewilderingly and mysteriously 
true to life. 

My everyday self that casually speaks to this or 
that person is nothing like this book. My absorbed 
self that writes a letter to an intimate acquaintance 
is not like this book. My heartfelt self that deeply 
loves a friend, and gives of its depths, and thrills 
answeringly to other depths, is not like this book. 
This book is my mere Hidden Self — just under the 
skin but hid away closer than the Thousand 
Mysteries: never shown to any other person in any 

Just beneath my skin i6s 

conversation or any association: never would be 
shown: never could be. 

How Another, any Other, would come out: what 
Another would show: photographed Beneath the 
Skin — what do I know? 

Perchance ten times more trivial and inconsequent 
and mad than Me. 

If Another thinks Me someway mad, let him look at 
Himself Just Beneath the Skin. 
Perchance Another every day as he thanks a janitor 
for holding open a door, would much prefer to drive 
a long rusty brad-nail deep into the janitor's skull. 
Perchance Another has a brain like Goethe, a Soul 
like a humming-bird, a Heart like a little round nut- 

What do I know? 
I know what I am. 
Another may know what he is. 
But I can't tell Me to Another and Another can't 
tell Himself to Me. 
I can tell Me to myself and write it. 
Another if he reads will see Me : but not as I see Me. 
Instead, through many veil-curtains and glasses, 
very darkly. 

1 66 God's kindly caprice 


FOR twenty-five cents and one hour and twelve 
minutes one may get in this present detailed 
world a bit of unforgettable complete en- 

So I found to-day in a moving-picture theater. A 
Carmen, the real Carmen of Prosper Merimee 
glowed, vibrated, lived and died with passion on a 
white screen. 

Of all prose writers I know Prosper Mdrimee is the 
one — (intimate and sensitively ahve as if I had Iain 
against his shoulder as I read *La Guzia* and 
* Venus d'llle' —he melts into my veins — )whom I 
would most eagerly see interpreted. Of all fiction 
characters — if she is fiction — the poignant Carmen 
is the one I would most eagerly see realized. 
Carmen is one of those fictions which are truer to 
life than life is. Such fiction-things are all around, 
touching everybody: the spoken truths which grow 
false at being spoken: the thought lies which turn 
to truths the moment they touch words. 
I have heard Carmen sung and seen her filmed by the 
lustrous Farrar, and I have seen her play-acted by 
some lesser fights. But Bizet's opera, a sparkfing 
music-storm, creates a sonant objective Carmen, a 
beautiful bloody lyric, remote from Merimde who 

God's kindly caprice 167 

made a Carmen intensely peculiar to his own sub- 
jective art. And the stage-Carmen has always been 
a stage-Carmen waiting in dusty, draughty wings for 
her cues. It remained for the cinematograph, which 
is a true literal mirror of human expression, to make 
Carmen burst into violent physical life. 
But it was less the scopes of the films which made Car- 
men animate than it was the virile woman who 
played her. It was acting — but acting in the sense of 
losing and sinking and saturating and dissolving her- 
self in another woman's temperament: and by it she 
achieved some strong sword, keen shadings of the 
Carmen character — to the hair*s-breadth. 
And she looked like Carmen. It was not important to 
the vigorous fire of her acting but it made bewitch- 
ment in the portrait. No one I have before seen play 
Carmen fitted the elusive points of her description. 
*Her eyes were set obliquely in her head but 
they were magnificent and large. Her lips, 
a little full but beautifully shaped, revealed 
a set of teeth as white as newly-skinned 
almonds. Her hair was black with blue 
lights on it like a raven's wing, long and 
glossy. To every blemish she united some 
advantage which was perhaps all the more 
evident by contrast. There was something 
strange and wild about her beauty. Her 

1 68 God's kindly caprice 

face surprised you at first sight but nobody 
could forget it. Her eyes especially had an 
expression of mingled sensuality and fierce- 
ness which I had never seen in any human 
glance. Gypsy's eye, wolfs eye' — 
This (from the English translation of the story by 
Lady Mary Loyd) fitted to a charm the pictured 
vision of the foreign-looking woman — her name is 
Theda Bara — who flung a throbbing Carmen across 
the screen with indescribable heat and color and 
luster. It was comparable only to the muscular force 
of the original which that Merimee rubs nervously 
and heavily into one's thoughts. I felt it someway 
satisfyingly unbelievable — an illusion more actual 
than actuality: a dream which outbore fact. 
I suppose there's no other character like Carmen for 
flaming roundness in all fiction: fifled with her 
treacheries yet purely true to herself, without fear, 
utterly game: fierce, coarse, ruthless and reckless 
yet wrapped in a maddening unwitting pathos: 
strong and bold and cruelly poised yet capable of 
sudden complete surrender: ignorant and abandoned 
and criminal in every instinct yet beyond every 
Httleness, every pettiness: sensual yet contemptuous 
and indiff'erent in it, a woman of essential chastity. 
Carmen is the one criminal conception in whom there 
is no vulgar evil, no personal maculateness though 

God*s kindly caprice 169 

wrecking all the wildness of her temper in her tem- 
pestuous days*-journeys. She is a romantic 
murderous appeal to human super judgment. It 
was this isolate quality of her which Theda Bara 
gave out with mystic masterful art. She gauged the 
personal odors and blood-pressures of Carmen. 
She slipped into Carmen's skin and first sucked in 
and then breathed out the irresistible menacingness 
and arrest ingruination of her beautiful diabolic spirit. 
A little feverish artistic thrill ran in my veins as I 
sat in the dark watching. 

'She had thrown her mantilla back,' says 
Don Jose in the translated tale, *to show 
her shoulders and a great bunch of acacias 
that was thrust into her chemise. She had 
another acacia bloom in the corner of her 
mouth and she walked along swaying her 
hips like a filly from the Cordova stud farm. 
In my country anyone who had seen a 
woman dressed in that fashion would have 
crossed himself. In Seville every man paid 
her some bold compliment on her appear- 
ance. She had an answer to each and all 
with her hand on her hip — "Come, my 
love," she began again, "make me seven 
ells of lace for my mantilla, my pet pin- 
maker." And taking the acacia blossom 

1 70 God's kindly caprice 

out of her mouth she flipped it at me with 
her thumb so that it hit me just between 
the eyes. I tell you, sir, I felt as if a bullet 
had struck me.' 
This first meeting of Carmen with the dragoon was 
pictured in a brilliant hot-looking plaza as if before 
the cigarette factory in Seville. This woman in 
throwing the flower at the soldier expressed wonder- 
fufly in one fleet moment, by hand and lip and eye, 
the savage sordid poetry and passionate freedom — 
that unearthly fragrance — which is Carmen. 
The film version followed the scenes of the opera 
rather than the story, which took nothing from the 
headlong truth of the central figure. 
But no picturing can equal the star-clarity of 
Merimee's prose in Carmen's death-scene — a thing 
of a piercing pathos comparable to nothing I know 
in writing. 

'After we had gone a little distance I said 

to her, "So, my Carmen, you are quite 

ready to follow me, isn't it so?" 

She answered, "Yes, I'll follow you to the 

death — but I won't live with you any more." 

We had reached a lonely gorge. I stopped 

my horse. 

"Is this the place?" she said. 

And with a spring she reached the ground. 

God's kindly caprice 171 

She took ofF her mantilla and threw it at 
her feet, and stood motionless with one hand 
on her hip, looking at me steadily. 
"You mean to kill me, I see that well," she 
said. "It is fate. But you'll never make 
me give in." 

I said to her: "Be rational, I implore you; 
listen to me. All the past is forgotten. Yet 
you know it is you who have been my ruin — 
it is because of you that I am a robber and 
a murderer. Carmen, my Carmen, let me 
save you, and save myself with you." 
"Jose," she answered, "what you ask is im- 
possible. I don't love you any more. You 
love me still and that is why you want to 
kill me. If I liked I might tell you some 
other lie, but I don't choose to give myself 
the trouble. Everything is over between 
us two. You are my rom and you have the 
right to kill your romi, but Carmen will al- 
ways be free. A calli she was born and a 
calli she'll die." 

"Then you love Lucas?" I asked. 
"Yes, I have loved him — as I loved you — 
for an instant — less than I loved you, per- 
haps. And now I don't love anything. And 
I hate myself for ever having loved you." 

172 God's kindly caprice 

I cast myself at her feet, I seized her hands, 
I watered them with tears, I reminded her 
of all the happy moments we had spent to- 
gether, I offered to continue my brigand's 
life, if that would please her. Everything, 
sir, everything — I offered her everything if 
she would only love me again. 
She said: "Love you again? That's not 
possible. Live with you? I will not do it." 
I was wild with fury. I drew my knife. I 
would have had her look frightened and sue 
for mercy — but that woman was a demon. 
I cried: "For the last time I ask you. Will 
you stay with me?" 

"No! No! No!" she said and she stamped 
her foot. Then she pulled a ring I had 
given her off her finger and cast it into the 
brushwood. I struck her twice over — I had 
taken Garcia's knife because I had broken 
my own. At the second thrust she fell 
without a sound. It seems to me that I 
can still see her great black eyes staring at 
me. Then they grew dim and the lids 
closed. — For a good hour I lay there pros- 
trate beside the corpse.' — 
No play-acting could make the scene so pregnant 
and palpitant with human-stuff and alive in vision 

God's kindly caprice 173 

as that translucent jewel-prose of Merime'e. But 
so close as one art may counterfeit another, by 
drinking-up the fiery spirit essence which informs it, 
so close did this actor-woman compass and consum- 
mate the strong delicious unafraidness of Carmen's 

The scene was staged as in the opera — a court out- 
side the bull-fighting arena, with Carmen richly 
bejeweled and dressed in the lacy smart-lady 
clothes of the Toreador's mistress. But that was 
nothing. The gypsy wildness of the written scene 
was in every insolently splendid bodily movement 
and each fateful loveliness of eyes and lips of the 
fulfilling Theda Bara. 

I can still see the dark drooping-Iidded dying eyes. 
I sensed Carmen in conscious chambers of my Mind. 
I felt her in my throat. It was Carmen herself living 
and breathing near me, the fearsomely adorable 
Carmen who has haunted the edge of my thoughts 
since I first read her. 

There are some odd crudenesses in Theda Bara's 
acting which had the eff'ect of making her un-stagey, 
unobvious. They made her humanly vibrant. 
And they added a devilish wistfulness to her Carmen 
and a surprising feel of genuineness to the whole 
The actor's art brings out the romance which is 

174 God^s kindly caprice 

in human bone-and-flesh. And Theda Bara seems 
someway a master of its physical and spiritual 
subtleties. She expressed the swift emotion of 
Carmen by ringing shghtest possible changes on 
her own virile and mobile body: insolence by kim- 
boing an elbow: cruelty by the twitch of a wrist: 
sensual feeling by moving a knee and an ankle: 
murder in the twisting of her waistline: a fleet 
repressed animal tenderness by a posture of shoulder 
and breast: a heartbreak of mirth in her careless 
vivid lips: the desperate bravery of that death by 
the tilt of her potent chin: the hurricane-freedom 
of Carmen's soul by lifting her face and her arms in 
the night wind. She worked with an exquisite 
muscular sincerity, as if she strongly gave her best 
of brain and blood and mettle to the part. 
I looked at photographs of her which decorated the 
lobby of the theater. She looks a beautiful and 
earnest-seeming girl of a mental rather than a 
physical caste, with melancholy dark eyes, a child- 
like mouth-profile and the shm partrician hands of a 
Bourbon duchess. She will live in my warmed 
memory as the star of all the Carmens. 
A flood of hfe and color goes into the staging of a 
Carmen film: a throng of attractive faces and bodies 
of people, women and men and lovely children, 
move through it in a pulsating gay pageant: flowers 

God*s kindly caprice 175 

and Spanish prettinesses of costume and country-side 
and street and cafe are all over it, bright as life: 
and sweet winds blow in it and leaves and grasses 
wave and flutter, and the sunshine melts and mellows 
the air — all as if one saw it thrice-enlarged through 
windows. It is not poetry — it is not in itself any art, 
but a dear delectable counterfeit of it, a miracle- 
taste of the outer-looking madly-peopled world. 
For me it meant my long-adored Merim^e given 
sudden brief life, the haunting Carmen turned into 
flesh: a spell of silent human-music which glowed 
and burned upon me like gentle fire. 
Often is God thus capriciously kind to me. 

176 A fascinating creature 


I AM a fascinating creature. 
I move in no stultifying ruts. There's no real 
yoke of custom on my shoulders. My round 
white breasts beneath their black serge are con- 
current with nothing settled or subservient or 

My Mind goes in no grooves made by other minds. 
It lives like a witch in a forest, weaving its spells, 
revelling in smooth vivid adventure. When I look 
at a round gray stone by a roadside I look at it not 
as a young woman, not as a person, not as an artist, 
nor a geologist, nor an economist, but as Me — as 
Mary MacLane — and as if there had not before 
been a round gray stone by a roadside since the 
world began. When I look at a chair with my somber 
eyes I say to the chair, *What other persons may 
see when they look at you, chair, I don't know — 
how could I know? But I well know what I see and 
that what I see is uninfluenced by other eyes that 
may have looked at you, were they Aristotle's or 
Gahleo's or an archangel's.' There may be equally 
egotistic viewpoints — in Waco-Texas, or Japan, or 
Glasgow-Scotland or the Orkney Islands, where not? 
I don't know — I don't care. What is it to me? 
I know my own virile vision and that it thrills and 

A fascinating creature 177 

informs and translates me as if crackling bright- 
jagged lightnings broke along my sky. — 
It is a night of whispering breezes and little restless 
clouds, an endearing night. It makes solitude a 
delectation. I walked out in it, in the glimmering 
moonlight past buildings and houses and mines and 
mounds. My thoughts as I walked were all of Me: 
how fascinating is Me. 

I came in at midnight and met Me in my mirror. 
I pushed my three-cornered hat backward off my 
head, slipped out of my loose coat and dropped my 
squeezed gloves. I sank fatiguedly into a little 
chair before the mirror, tipped the chair forward on 
its front legs, rested my elbows on the bureau and 
my chin in my hands and looked absorbedly at 
myself. Lovingly, tenderly, discerningly, marveling 
and absorbed and deeply fascinated I looked at Me 
in the mirror. *You enchanted one!* said I, *You 
Witch-o'-the- world ! you Mary MacLane! — who you 
are / don't know — what you are I but partly know. 
You're my Companion, my 'Familiar, my Lover, my 
wilding Sweetheart — I love you! I know that — 
that's enough. I love your garbled temper, your 
aching thoughts, your troubled Heart, your wasted 
spirit. I know much, much, much of you and love 
you! I love your beauty-sense and your proud 
scornful secret super-sensitiveness. I love your 

lyS A Jascinating creature 

Eyes and your Lips and your bodily Fire and Ice' — 
— to know oneself: apart from all the world! 
One looking at me sees a cold-poised young woman, 
reserved and aloof, slightly diffusing insolence and 
inspiring misgivings. 

But I looking at Me see a woman standing high on 
flame-washed battlements of her life in whom burn 
and beat the spirits and lights and star-discords of 
uncounted tired lustrous ages. I see me forlorn and 
radiant, drab and brilHant. I see me wrapped in a 
fiery potentiality of pain and beauty and love and 
sorrow. I hear wild voices in Me like horrid-sweet 
wailing of ghost-violins, muted but crying loudly 
in frightful reasonless vital joy and in unspeakable 
terror and sadness. I see Me ragged-clothed, bleed- 
ing, with disordered tangled hair and bloodshot eyes, 
with coarse soiled hands, broken-nailed, like a 
criminal's: a woman of woes. And I see Me wistful 
in quiet pure garments like one seeking light. I see 
Me old as old sin and young as new Spring days. 
I see Me un-sanely sensitive and hardened over — 
closed in worldly cases: guarded antagonism round 
my thoughts, protecting indifference round my 
Heart, dead silence round my Soul. I see Me with 
brains to know, with prescient mind to grasp, with 
mobile sense to feel. I see Me all futile, all hopeless, 
all miserable. I see Me all poetry. I see Me all 

A fascinating creature 179 

wonder, mystery and beauty. I see Me! — 
— much more than that, this Me sitting here! my 
deep gray wanton dark eyes: my lips — like pink 
flowers — with the inscrutable expression: my white 
fingers — slim, strong, glossy-nailed, silken at the 
tips. My glass gives Me back to Me, sitting by it, 
languid of Body, tense of spirit and Mind, bathed 
in witcheries of Self — 

I love my Mary MacLane! Ah — ;I love her! 
It is good — since I can't find God, since I can't find 
way-of-truth however I grope about. 
Every human friendship I form throws me back more 
completely on myself. 
Whom then shall I love but myself? 
I know my own human enchanJitments and that they 
never fail me. 

ril know them more! I'll love them more! — I'll 
love them in sane madness lest mad madness over- 
take and destroy Me, Soul and bones. 

i8o No resonance 




Y LIFE, myself, I know are nothing noble, 

nothing constructive. 

There is no resonance in this analysis, but 
all Dissonance. 

Something lives, lives muscularly in me that con- 
stantly betrays me, destroys me against all my own 
convictions, against all my own knowledge, against 
all my own desire. 
It may be true of Everybody.' 
I don't know. I think about it but get nowhere. 
It seems someway unlike God to make each person a 
something all of cross-purpose. 
But I doubt that I am different from Everybody. 
I doubt if I am anyway abnormal. 
I am very sane. 

A match-flame burns me the same as it burns Every- 
body: pins prick me and hurt. 
Yet I look in myself and see, through harmonic 
details, the massed Dissonance. 
I am dying in a pit. 

Black-browed Wednesdays i8i 


ALL my life IVe liked the Back of a magazine. 
Some black-browed Wednesday I purchase 
a magazine, a fifteen-cent one, and read 
it through. I read the stories and they deeply 
engage or lightly interest me. I read the * special 
articles' and if they tell about flying machines or 
wild birds or hospitals or woman-prisoners in 
penitentiaries they charm or absorb my thoughts, 
I look at the illustrations and try to decide whether 
they are art or science or mechanism. I read the 
verse and if it's poetry it exhilarates me as if closed 
shutters were opened to let Day into a gloomy Room. 
Then I read the advertisements in the Back and 
they do all of those things to me in comforting life- 
giving oxygen-furnishing ways. Each advertise- 
ment is a short story with an eerie little *pIot' in it: 
each is a special article full of purpose: each is 
fruitful poetry: and in my two hands I all-but have 
and hold those wonderful Things they exploit. 
They make me feel it's my birthday and I'm pre- 
sented a wealth of lavish gifts. 
They make me feel it's all a world of playthings. 
They make me feel like a baby with a rattle, a ball 
and a hoop of bells. 
I like everything in the Back of a magazine. 

1 82 Black-browed Wednesdays 

I like the Revolvers, handsome plausible short- 
barreled Revolvers with pictures of ordinary people 
in dim-lit midnight bedrooms, and ordinary expected- 
looking burglars climbing in windows — Revolvers 
of ten shots and of six, and of different cahbers, 
and all of them gleamingly mystically desirable: 
I like the Soaps, smooth amorous appetizing Soaps, 
some in luxurious Paris packets, and others spread 
out in blue water and rosy foam, splashed in by 
athletic Archimedesque young men and fat creamy 
babies and slim beautiful ladies — Mary Garden 
Soap of pungent delicious scent, tar Soap for the 
long lovely hair of girls, austere Ivory Soap — It 
floats: I like the Rubber Heels of resilient charm 
so tellingly pictured and described that at once I 
desire them beneath my spirit-heels — springy and 
solid and thick and firm: I like the Tooth-pastes 
and Tooth-powders and Tooth-lotions in tubes and 
tins and bottles, each bearing beneficent messages 
to the human white teeth of this world — one un- 
failing kind coming lyrically out like a ribbon and 
lying flat on the brush: I like the foods — of mir- 
aculous spotless purity and enticement — Biscuits 
and Chocolate and Figs, and Foie-gras in thick 
glossy little pots, so richly pictured and sung that 
merely to let my thoughts graze in their pasturage 
fattens my Heart: I like the men's very thin 

Black-browed Wednesdays 183 

Watches, and men's Garters — no metal can touch 
you — , and men's flufFy-Iathered shaving sticks, and 
men's trim smart flawless tailored Suits, in none of 
which I have use or interest until I find them in the 
Back of a magazine — where at once they grow charm- 
ing and romantic: I like the jars and boxes and tubes 
and glasses of Cold Cream, Cold Cream fit for skins 
of goddesses, fit for elves to feed on — a soft satiny 
scented snow-white elysium of wax and vaseline 
and almond paste, pictured in forty alluring shapes 
till it feels pleasantly ecstatic just to be hving in 
the same world with bewitching vases of Cold Cream, 
Cold Cream, Cold Cream — always bewitching and 
lovely but never so notably and festively as in the 
Back of a magazine: and I like the Pencils: and 
Book-cases: and Silver: and Jewels: and Glass: 
and Gloves: and Shoes — beautiful Shoes: and 
Fountain-pens: and Leather things: and Paint — 
silkish salubrious Paints, house-Paints, and the 
panegyrics with them — they make me long to own 
a spirit-house and paint it liberally: and Rugs: 
and Varnish: and Clothes — wonderful Clothes: 
and Bungalows: and Phonographs — his master's 
voice: and Paper — fine- wrought Paper to write on — 
bond and linen and hand-pressed, pale-tinted — a 
vast virgin treasure: and Oranges: and Cigarettes — 
a shilling in London a quarter here: and Water- 

184 Black-browed Wednesdays 

Bottles of powdery rubber: and Stockings — patrician 
Stockings which take me into realms of silk-Iooms 
and delicate dyes and slim ankles: and Candle- 
Shades : and Candle-Sticks : and countless Cosmetics 
— Cosmetics of tender colors for the outer women: 
and Sealingwax indescribably useless and attractive: 
and Tennis-Racquets: and Ivory — smooth Vantine 
Ivory toys and trinkets polished softly bright as 
moonlight — and their lily-worded descriptions like 
restrained sonnets: and Washing Powders — let the 
Gold Dust twins do your work: and Shower-baths: 
and Evans' Ale: and Flying Boats: and Umbrellas: 
and Cameras — if it isn't an Eastman it isn't a kodak: 
and boxes of Candy — sweet wilderness of chocolates 
— their very makers* names have a melting gust — 
Allegretti, Huyler, Clarence Crane, Maillard — 
cloying courtiers all: and Diamond Dyes — a child 
can use them: and Veranda Screens — she can look 
out but he can't look in: and Cedar Chests: and 
Chartreuse from Carthusian monasteries: and 
Perfumes — Perfumes in their maddening-sweet pride. 
Perfumes from Paris, Perfumes bottled in thick 
crystal, enchantingly costly — each American dollar 
added to their price-by-the-ounce making them 
fragranter to my thoughts : and boxes of benevolent 
Matches, and captivating Brooms, and fascinating 
Scouring-powders — a Dutch girl on the can chasing 

Black-browed Wednesdays 185 

dirt — all three luscious tempting things in the Back 
of a magazine: and Automobiles — ask the man who 
owns one: and Rifles — simple and formidable and 
fine: and restful Rat-poison — they die in the open 
air seeking water: and sacks of Flour — eventually 
why not now — flour unusual and piquant in the 
Back of a magazine, flour novel and endearing: 
and Type- writers : and Mushrooms: and Monkey- 
Wrenches: and Rosaries: and Rock-salt — 
the Back, the Back, the Back of a magazine — 
There's no sadness and no terror in the Back of a 

And it is for Everybody, Everybody. 
A million people read a story in the middle of the 
magazine and half the million readily miss its point. 
But a single tin of Talcum Powder in the Back — 
the whole million note that and miss nothing in it; 
it gets to them both on and under their skin. 
Some of the million read a ten-line poem in vers 
libre in the front of the magazine — and nine-tenths 
of their number are hard-put to it: the mentalities 
of this human race being mostly shops shut down. 
It is something pregnant and prophetic to a poet, 
merely musical to a plain prose writer, arrant folly 
to a telephone girl, amusing nonsense to a butcher, 
a comic fantasy to a milliner, a form of insanity to 
a plumber, an unknown tongue to a milk-man, a 

1 86 Black-browed Wednesdays 

kind of sin to a Baptist minister. But to each of 
those a Can of Soup in the Back of the same magazine 
has easily, exactly the same ox-tail-ish meanings: 
it reaches them where they live. 
A thousand persons agree with an article about 
atavism in orang-outangs and ten thousand more 
quite refute it. But they all harmoniously commit 
suicide with the same make of Revolver — hammer 
the hammer — or get rousing drunk to the same 
degree with the same brand of high-powered whis- 
key — Wilson, that's all. 

A countess, a courtesan and a convict-woman 
summarily pass over the front and middle of the 
magazine as containing nothing to their purpose. 
But like jungle denizens at their drinking pool the 
three of them meet hostilely on the common ground 
of a popular Cigarette featured in the Back — a, blend 
to suit every taste — wherewith they unwittingly 
smoke away half their generic differentiations. 
The Colonel's Lady and Judy O'Grady anoint them- 
selves nightly into a state of shining invisible kin- 
ship from separated twin jars of the same bewitching 
Cold Cream. 

Fm not sure myself and Miss Lily Walker of the 
Broadway chorus regard similarly a beauteous box 
of Rice Powder: she perchance would at once dash 
madly into it and powder herself o'er with it, whereas 


Black-browed Wednesdays 187 

I would fain ponder about it awhile as a tiny be- 
violeted adventure. But pondering or powdering, 
equally exciting to each of us is its delicate pale 
lilac blazonment in the Back of a magazine. 
The front of the magazine may mean little to you 
and the middle of the magazine may mean nothing 
to me: the Back of it none of us escapes. 
It is for Everybody, Everybody. 
Even Senegambians : they can look at the pictures 
and marvel over them. 

I can there meet a Senegambian on the common 
ground of it might be a delicate transparent oval 
of Pears' Soap, pretty as a jewel of price: perchance 
we would each unconsciously feel we wouldn't be 
happy till we got it. 

It's only as playthings I want the Things in the Back 
of a magazine. 

To me they are toys, lyrics of matter, food of the 

The octroi would have no sympathy with my 
loiterings among their wares. It is a fete of my own, 
indolent and fanciful, unrecognized in commerce. 
Any article I may put to its forthright use in actuality 
becomes an idyllic toy when I find it in the Back of 
a magazine. The desirable Revolvers are not fire- 
arms with which to shoot myself and burglars, but 
only bijous to have and handle and caress. The 

1 88 Black-browed Wednesdays 

luxuriant vervain- and violet-scented Soaps are not 
for my toilet, but something to eat, for my astral 
body to feed on— nourishing food they make. The 
lush Cold Creams have no massaging possibilities 
in them — they are for my thoughts to gambol among, 
for my meddlesome spirit-fmgers to touch and fuss 
with deliciously, blissfully, transcending all vulgar 
use. The men's thin Watches mean nothing to me 
as Watches: and their Garters — what's it to me 
whether no-metal-can-touch-you or no-metal-at-all? 
My thoughts merely revel and juggle with them, 
picture and legend — they are pastimes of my 
child-self. The cream-woven Note Papers are not 
to write on but wherewithal to imagine how cool 
and smooth they would feel drawn slowly across 
my flushed cheek. A sack of Flour — I feel only 
how I'd like to have it spilled out — eventually- why- 
not-now — in a thick warm-tinted heap on the blue- 
velvety floor of my room that I might roH and bathe 
in it and feel it feathery-fluff"y on my skin. 
So I play with my toys on black-browed Wednesdays. 
Some Wednesdays even fail to be black-browed 
because there are Backs to magazines. 

The conscious analyst 189 


I DON'T know whether I write this because I 
wear two plain dresses or whether I wear two 
plain dresses because I write it. 
My life fell into a lowering mood which calls for but 
two dresses: which mood compels me to write out 
these things that are in me as inevitably as heavy 
gathered clouds come raining to the ground. The 
mood having overtaken me I can not keep from 
writing this day after day, more than I can keep from 
brushing my hair every day, and eating lumps of 
food every day, and picking up tiny white specks 
from my blue rug. 

I love this book and I fear and hate it. I love the 
writing of it though it is a finical unobvious task — 
more so than it looks. And often I fear to read it 
over lest I hurt my own feelings. And I hate it in 
ways. I am a particularly sane woman when alFs 
said. And many things I come to in me are grating 
and inexplicable and incongruous. 
But also I love it. It is my companion 'when the 
world is gone. ' I am as solitary as if I had no human 
place in this earth. My days are as silent as if I 
lived in it alone. The few voices that bespeak me in 
a day or a week stop at my ear-drums and are im- 
mensely alien. At times, for weeks on end, I am 

1 90 The conscious analyst 

quite alone in this house and the silence then has a 
depth and a hollowness. From it I feel not alone 
in a house but alone in a world: and more when the 
family is in the house. 

And it is what-should-l-do if I had not a writing 
talent to expend me upon from day to day, and so 
rest me. I feel God around some corner but that 
feeling is no rest, but only an odd terror which wants 
the dignity of terror. 

Times I wonder if I shall have this published after- 
ward for all to read and if so what colors it will paint 
on my world — and what else may befall. 
But it's an aspect dim and remote now. I wearing 
but two nunHke dresses and face to face with me, 
have nothing to do with pubhshing books and with 
the beautiful noisy world and its befallings. It is 
easy to believe I shall never again have to do with 
any of that. This may be my death-mood. I am 
very tired. The weight of being a person is heavy 
on me as weights of lead. And still I know if I 
suddenly bloomed with beautiful frocks and went 
out to-morrow to lose myself among people, people, 
people I should at once achieve a veneer of the 
utmost frivol. I have an odd frivolous quality full 
of an ardor and strength, with all of my mental 
mettle in it. Also I know if I did that now it would 
be but postponing this analytic reckoning. Which 

The conscious analyst 191 

would confront me again with the more rancor, the 

more futileness gathered into it from having been 

put off. , 

This book and the two dresses are my present portion. 

If I could escape them (I am not quite sure I want 

to — but — hell!) — it would be of no use. They 

would come back again in an unexpected ripeness 

of time and demand a hearing: an exquisite nervous 

tragic hearing. 

They are such stuff as the conscious analyst is made 


But though Fm the conscious analyst I can't quite 

tell whether I write the book because I wear two 

plain black dresses or I wear those because I write it. 

192 Eye when I mean tooth 


I WRITE it, and it's a surprising book. 
It is not what on the surface it looks to be. 
I do not write what my clear Mind may want 
to say to the v/hite blank paper. 
I do not write what my thoughts are saying to me. 
Those things are facile, uninformed — flat mental 
pictures, the writer's craft. 

I write what still voices of life: voices trivially fright- 
ful in their secret pettiness: voices of all my life — 
merest living — say to my ancient Soul and my 
young present Body and what they two may answer. 
I am in. some sort a wonderful person — and in places 
I do that, nearly perfectly. 

I am also tired and someway whelmed by self- 
conscious despair, and possessed of a talent imperfect 
and inadequate to reveal the radiances and shades 
my being perceives : and in places I fail. 
I fail remarkably. I write Eye when I mean Tooth. 
I write Fornicate when I mean Caress. I write 
Wine when I mean Blood. For no better reason 
than that my writing hand is not sufficiently dexter- 
ous : the little flashing shutters open and shut so quick 
that the second ones are shut and the third starting 
to open before I have got written the things I saw 
through the first ones. 
Only not always. 

A wild mare 193 


ALSO I am dissatisfying to myself. 
My thoughts smother me: they keep me 
from life. 

I am a hundred times more introspective 
than most people, most women. Most women, even 
conventional ones, are lawless — the more conven- 
tional, the more lawless usually. 
And so most women beat me to life. Where they 
yield to an impulse the moment they feel it — I, 
because an impulse itself is adventure-fabric — I feel 
of its quality, test it for defects, wash a little corner 
of it to see if the color will run — and conclude not 
to use it. 

That I gaze inward at the garbled biograph of Me 
keeps me from several sorts of violent action. 
I have violent action in me, chained in analysis. 
Most women are secretly lawless on the old plan 
inaugurated by Eve — of inclining to do anything 
forbidden, of hugging everything they are unsup- 
posed to hug, of determinedly kicking over the 
traces when coerced too much. The ban is the chief 

It's but little like that with me. There would be 
point and purpose in my Action. But it is kept in 
stupor by analysis. 
I am malcontent about that, though I live upon 

194 ^ ^ild mare 

analysis. I hate the inaction and inertia that follow 
on its heels. 

I could be an anarchist. I condemn anarchists but 
not as I condemn Me. I would respect me more 
were I this moment prisoned in a real bastile for 
having stuck a good knife into a bad king. I could 
feel, no matter how foohsh and mistaken in itself 
the act, that I had done the strong and brave thing 
at sacrifice of my personal selves. The dry living- 
death of the prison would be compensated for each 
day when I said to Me, * It was a needful honorable 
act and / did it: for once in my Kfe I was a Regular 

There would be a nourishment in being able to tell 
that to myself. There would be warming food in 
owning one so brave remembrance of myself 
But, my Soul-and-bones! — at the very moment of 
lifting the good knife a thought would come: *How 
is this king worse than another? What rotten 
rascal mightn't rise in his place?' And on with a 
lightning-trail of analysis till my pale hand dropped 
inert and the knife in it grew harmless as a lily-petal. 
It isn't that I haven't the guts. I have. 
I am a wild mare in foal: and unfoaling. 

The mist 195 


BECAUSE I am to myself someways dis- 
satisfying and exasperating often this thing 
I write is dissatisfying and exasperating. 
It is a true account of what is inside me. * The wine 
must taste of its own grapes.' 

It would be easier to make it an untrue account, 
for fiction is the most effortless of writing. So I 
have found it. And I am very clever. 
I could write myself as a pretty dainty harmlessly 
purring one — the leopard with claws clipped and 
fangs drawn. 

When my dynamos rest I am like that, doubtless. 
But the wears and tears of breathing and the in- 
fluences of varied life-details and of clothes worn and 
food eaten start me moving devilishly. 
Phases of a score of persons, men and women, come 
to hght in me. 

To be one human being means to be monstrously 

I write me out not as I might be, nor as I should be — 
whatever that may be — : but merely as I am. 
As, Just Beneath The Skin, I am. 
So my written account must come out someways 
dissatisfying and exasperating. Logically dis- 
satisfying and divinely and ethically exasperating. 

196 The mist 

— a passage in Vergil tells of a Mist that is all over 
and about this world from the human 'tears that 
are falling, falling, falling always.' Something, and 
it may be that Mist, makes one's view of everything 
— everything in life — a little blurred. It may even 
blur one's view of oneself. So it may be I do not 
see myself with entire clearness — 
I only know I write me as clearly as I see me, con- 
sidering the Mist. 

A white liner igj 


TO-DAY came the Finn woman and cleaned 
my blue-and- white bedroom. 
She comes now and again and cleans 

I would like to clean my room myself but lack the 
strength and skill to do it well. 

But I stay with the Finn woman and show her how 
and I watch her work and muse upon her. She 
would be called in England a charwoman, but in this 
America qf the vast mongrel heterogenesis she is an 
unclassified laborer. 

I like to watch her and talk with her a bit and dwell 
on her mixed potentialities. She contrasts fasci- 
natingly with me. 

She is a human being and so am I, and beyond and 
with that there are odd parallels and similarities 
and distinctions between her and me. 
Her name is Josephina and she looks as if it might be. 
Mine is Mary MacLane but I don't look entirely 
like it. 

She lives a lonely life and so do I, differing in sort 
and circumstance. 

I am middle-class and American of Canadian 
reminiscence, and early-thirty. 
Josephina is Finn and lower-class with a 'foreign' 

198 A white liner 

look, and she is forty-five and looks sixty and is 
twelve years out of Finland. 

I am tallish and slim and weigh nine wavering stone. 
The Finn woman is short and solid and weighs all 
of a hundred and seventy pounds. 
I am slender of flank and ankle, narrow through the 
loins and bony at the shoulders. 
The Finn woman is thick everywhere, broad of 
girth and deep of chest like a Percheron stallion. 
I am darkish with dusky gray eyes. 
Josephina is dirty-blond with pale narrow blue eyes 
like a china doIFs. 

My sex feels to me like a mysterious sweetness. 
Josephina's sex looks porcinely obvious and un- 
interesting like her large dubious breasts. 
I am inwardly full of strong-flavored emotions. 
The one positive outward feeling Josephina manifests 
is a dull but comprehensive hatred, peculiar to her 
nationality and station, for everything Swedish. 
The Finn woman has a husband now and had a 
different one formerly. 
I have none and never had. 
Josephina is elemental primeval woman. 
So am I but terrifically qualified by complexity, 

I have white smooth firm beautiful hands. 
Josephina's hands are particularly ugly and have a 

A white liner 199 

menacing look. 
I have quick intelligence. 
Josephina is markedly stupid. 
I live in a quiet clean bungalow. 
Josephina lives in an unusually filthy unrestful 
little house. 

I own two dresses whose personnel alters at intervals. 
Josephina owns one unchanging dress, septic, 
maculate and repellent. 

I have a sense of humor vivid and intriguing to 

Josephina has no more sense of humor than a flat- 

I bathe foamily icily each morning. 
Josephina would seem never to have had a bath. 
She cleans windows and floors and rugs for thirty- 
five cents an hour. She would regard it as a fantastic 
waste of time and soap to clean herself for nothing. 
I own in a still flawed fife one phase which is an 
endless treasure of beauty and power and charm 
and fight: my love for John Keats. 
The Finn woman owns about the same thing in a 
fife which may be more still and flawed than mine: 
her love for strong drink. 

There begins a curious fine of simifitude between us. 
I feel oddly joyous and fight of heart on a sofitary 
veranda corner with the John-Keats poetry book 

200 A white liner 

open in my lap. 

And Josephina has been found many a time by 
Butte policemen sitting alone joyous and very drunk, 
in dark alleys with empty pint bottles strewn all 
about her. 

In my un-Keats hours I am mostly mournful. And 
Josephina sober has all the melancholy of her race 
with an added gloom, as if the acetylene had run out 
of all her lamps. That my melancholy is more lus- 
trous than hers I lay to her native dullness as against 
my native braininess, and to alcohol's having rotting 
effects on human mental tissues: whilst John Keats 
to those who drink his poetry is a starry savior. 
I like to think there's the same ambrosial food in the 
Demon Rum for Josephina as in the Grecian Urn 
for me. 

There seems no other pleasure in life for her. 
The limit of her literary pursuit is the reading of a 
four-page Finnish newspaper full of obituaries. 
The opalescent enchantments of her inner being 
mean nothing to her: she wouldn't know her entity 
from her duodenum. 

Her body can bring her no delight: there's no light- 
ness to it, no tang, no feminine charm, no conscious- 
ness to make her love it as the Dianas love theirs. 
A sunset above the western peaks is less than a 
setting sun to her. 

A white liner 201 

Her food is merely her fodder. 

Love and Romance pass her by. She and the hus- 
band vie with each other for solitary possession of 
their little nasty house. And her personality is not 
conducive to lovers. 
She has nor chick nor child to mother. 
Her idea of a hfe beyond this vale is crude and un- 
comfortable. She went two Sundays to the Finnish 
church and had a surprising lusty doctrine of eternal 
fire rammed down her throat: she took the Finn 
minister's word for it and quitted the fold, preferring 
to live this life unhampered by flaming anticipation. 
All her material treasure she works for with mops and 
scrubbing-brushes at thirty-five cents an hour. 
Other roads being thus blocked it is sing-ho for King 
Alcohol in pint bottles. 

Josephina is what is called a white liner. Which 
means that she has drunk so long, so much, so 
regularly that whiskey, rum, gin and brandy have 
no or negligible effects upon her. To achieve her 
intoxicating aim she must drink pure alcohol. 
By the same token I eschew many a tame poet: 
I must have John Keats. 

What the poetry of John Keats does to me I know. 
What the distilled waters of her choice do to Jose- 
phina it pleases me to imagine while I watch her 
clean my walls and floor and windows. 

202 A white liner 

She works strongly, steadily, quietly till I pronounce 
the room clean. Then she stops, carries the pails 
and other things downstairs to the kitchen, removes 
a big brass pin from the rear of her dingy skirt which 
had held it back and doubled over her darkhng 
petticoat, re-dons an antique rain-coat and bad hat, 
ties her clinking silver into the corner of a decadent 
handkerchief, bids me good-evening with a grave 
blond Finn bow and goes out into the dusk. She 
takes her way through alleys and short-cuts to the 
side door of a *FinIander' gin-palace in the Finn 
quarter of the town. And there she lays out her 
day's wage in the pint bottles of her delight. As 
many pint bottles as her few dollars will buy, so 
many she buys. She ventures her all in the name 
of passionate thirst taking no thought of the morrow. 
She then seeks out some alley with a dark door-step 
and there she does her drinking. It would not do to 
go home with her alcoholic wealth because the 
husband might be there who, like the alphabetic 
vintner, would * drink all himself.' So she drinks 
away in pint-bottle-ish peace, sitting alone in the 
gloom of the alleyway door-step, in her limp rain- 
coat and bad hat and her stolid Finn self-sufficience. 
Because I like Josephina it charms me to think of the 
happiness that must be hers as she sits emptying 
pint bottles into herself and the white strong fire- 

A white liner 203 

water begins to work. 

Before having her drinks she is unelated and unin- 
formed Hke a corpse coldly electrified by a storage 
battery. As she drinks and drinks on she remains 
outwardly unchanged as the way is with her race — 
but within! The changes that come to pass in the 
heavy person of Josephina as the white flames wash 
down her walls! 

Into her dull veins pours a hot stream like melted 
seething copper and it heats her knees till she 
knows she has knees and that they are white and 
very beautiful: and it heats her legs and her back 
and her breasts till they glow with the double-glow 
of an Aphrodite's in a reluctant Adonis's arms: 
it heats her eyes and temples and throat till she 
feels herself a radiant girl: it heats the crown of 
her head till she feels something like a brain there: 
it heats her heart and stomach till she's filled with a 
gay gust for life: it heats her imagination till she 
even imagines herself in love with her hard Finn 
husband since he is not by to beat her and so dispel 
the fancy: it heats a sense of humor into her till she 
laughs suddenly and heartily at some fugitive 
funniness that had Iain long frozen in her memory: 
it heats a hundred httle human carburetors in her 
which send a wreathe of vapors up into her drab 
being to flush it with misty golds and thin blues and 

204 A white liner 

rosy crimsons till her dormant involuntary soul 
awakes — a thing of old mellowed beauty, it may be 
— and is wafted on warm pretty vapory wings far 
from alleys, far from mops and scrubbing-brushes, 
far from thirty-five cents an hour, far from door- 
steps — to fair sweet Isles of the Blest! 
Nearing the last of her pint bottles she reels side- 
ways on the doorstep: her bad hat cants forward: 
she sprawls about. The policeman on that beat to 
whom in that aspect she is a figure long familiar 
strolls toward her late in the night and looks at her 
with a lackluster eye. But Josephina is physically 
unaware of all this world. Her last pint bottle is 
gamely emptied, her inner sun's chromosphere burns 
like mad — but her body, unable to cope with the 
virile delectations new-risen within it, limply gives 

A quaint picture, interesting to dwell on: her thick 
bathless body laid low in the darkened alley, with 
the empty pint bottles scattered on the paving-stones 
beside it — but her astral shape, lit by the subtle 
fires of alcohol, lifted high, high to remote elysiums. 
The policeman calls the * wagon' and Josephina is 
taken up by several ungentle hands and tossed into 
it like a sack of coal. They take her to the city jail 
and lock her in a cell. The next morning she stands 
jaded and morbidly intoxicated before a police 

A white liner 205 

judge who glances at her uninterestedly for the 
several-hundredth time and says five days. 
The five days can not be pleasant days but Josephina 
owns a robust sporting spirit. She gives not so much 
as the shrug of a shoulder either at going into jail 
or coming out of it. A black eye from her husband, 
a broken arm from a drunken fall, a filthy sojourn 
in jail: all one to her. She accepts them as she 
accepts all of her life, with an immense psychic 
calm. But she takes strongly to drink to translate 
herself out if it. And let her drink. 
I know how she feels for I take to John Keats. 
I don't myself care much for strong drink. I drink 
a little of it at irregular intervals, but, by and large, 
I drink without eclat. In this mountain altitude 
whiskey makes me sick, champagne makes me dizzy 
and gin is a pungent punishment. One morning 
after reading of Josephina's white-hne distinction 
in a police-court column I tasted some alcohol, but 
it had a varnish flavor and had strangling eff'ects on 
my throat. It made me marvel at Josephina's 
prowess. I like absinthe in its bitter strength mostly 
because to sit sipping it feels restfully forbidden. 
Port wine is a brackish medicine, I hate the stickiness 
of cordials, and a cocktail I like chiefly to contem- 
plate. So much for me and strong drink. 
Josephina on the other hand does not care for John 


A white liner 

Keats. I sounded her on poetry in some of its human 
aspects: there was nobody at home. Her own en- 
lightened north country has some poets of borealic 
iron and brain-brawn and beauty: to Josephina's 
wooden intellect their books are eternally closed. 
But the Demon Rum looses a heated flood of poetry 
upon her, which I can but vision and not feel. 
I am incapable of strong drink even as Josephina 
is incapable of John Keats. 
We are quits there. 

I look on myself as the more fortunate. — ^John Keats! 
A woman so drunk as to fall and reel about is always 
an exquisitely shameful thing. And when I think of 
how she's tossed into the wagon — to mention but 
one item — 

But it's a matter of the human equation. Doubtless 
it is all relative. The Finn woman is not aware of 
how she is knocked about, and if she were she would 
not regard it with any of my imagination. So what 

A likeable and admirable person is Josephina. 
A so strong fine businesslike worker, a so thorough- 
bred sport, a so splendid drunkard, and asking no 
odds of God or man. In her stolid Finn fashion she 
likes me as she has proven, and I like her though 
she makes me feel inferior. 
— if Josephina could and would write her inner 

A white liner 207 

isolated world of thoughts — the saga of her one 
horrid gown! There would be a book. All blacks 
and carmines — all stolidly sober and brilliantly 
drunk — ^all dingily bathless : deeply savagely quietly 

It would be a book savoring not of white alcohol 
but of the salty unshed Tears, the dry artistic 
Griefs of Josephina. 

2o8 Beneficent bedlam 


I HAVE been so long Sane it would be gay and 
sweet and resting to go Mad. 
I would I could go Mad. 
To a Mad- woman a Door is not a Door, probably: 
a Cat is not a Cat, belike: and To-morrow is not 
To-morrow at all — it may be week-before-Iast, it 
may be next year, it may be an exquisite jest. One 
can not tell what it is. 

It is the thing one escapes by going Mad: Monotony. 
It*s all beneficent bedlam. 

A deathly pathos 209 


I LOVE the sex-passion which is in this witching 
Body of me. I love to feel its portent grow 
and creep over me, like a climbing vine of 
tiny red roses, in the occasional dusks. 
It is no shame or shadow or sordidness: but beauty 
and sweetness and light, 
no token of sin: a token of virtue, 
no thing to crush: rather to nurture, to garner, 
no thing to forget: to remember, to think about, 
no flat weak drawn-out prose: live potent clipped 
heated poetry. 

not common and loosely human: rare and divine, 
not fat daily soup: stinging wine of life, 
not valueless because born of nothing and nowhere: 
valuable, priceless, a treasure under lock and key. 
Sex-desire comes wandering in dusk-time and gulfs 
me as in a swift violent sweet-smelling whirlwind. 
It goes away sudden-variant as it came, out of a 
region of hot quick shadows. 

And for that, for hours and days afterward, oranges 
and apples look brighter-colored to my eyes: ham- 
mocks swing easier as I sit in them: rugs feel softer 
to my feet: the black dresses lend themselves gentler 
to my form: pencils slide faciler on paper: my voice 
speaks less difficultly into telephones: meanings 

210 A deathly pathos 

sound super- vibrant in Keats's Odes: sugar — little 
pinches of granulated sugar — are shaper, sweeter- 
sweeter in my throat. 

And God grows less remote. And my wooden coffin 
and deep wet yellow clay grave move a long way 
back from me. 

— all from fleeting ungratified wish of sly sex- 
tissues — 

Also in it, and in my life from it, I sense some deathly 

The necklace 



THE Necklace which God long ago hung 
round the white neck of my Soul is com- 
posed of little-seeming curses, like precious 
and semi-precious gems. They are polished smooth 
as if by age, as if by wear, as if by fingering and as if 
by brisk industrious rubbing. 

The Necklace is at once beautiful and ugly. The 
gems are in color chiefly blues and greens — with 
grays, lavenders, drabs and mauves. But mostly 
blues and greens. They make a circlet of small 
stones strung at short intervals as if on a strong 
thin gold wire, with two large tawdry pretty pen- 
dants hung in front. One of the pendants is my 
fertile phase of Weakness and the other my odd 
encompassing Folly. The smaller stones are seven- 
teen in number and their names and natures are 

the first is Dishonesty which makes ghosts of half 
my life. 

the second is Pretense, hard and genuine stone, 
which keeps me from being all-ways sincere even to 
anyone who knows me and whom I know: who loves 
me and whom I love. 

the third is Fear which makes me who scorn all 
leonine dangers cringe and crawl for Trifles of life 

212 The necklace 

incredibly little. 

the fourth is Sensuality which burns and bursts 
across my Mind, half-missing my Body, 
the fifth is Anxiety, strange flawed green stone — 
by it I worry, tortured and wildly wavering, about 
the passing hours of my life: where they are going, 
where they are taking me. 

the sixth is Amativeness, extraordinary deep-tinted 
warm false gem — it makes me love someway amor- 
ously some person I meet and fancy: an intimate 
tragedy, crucial and trivial. 

the seventh is Fatigue of the spirit itself, gray sad 
stone, meaning terrible sensations of age in my 
young flesh. 

the eighth is Incongruity, the sense and feeling of it, 
round blue stone — it kills what might be art and 
constructiveness and excellence in me. 
the ninth is Acquiescence, worn dull stone — it has 
kept me all the ages from the salvation of heated 
luminous strife. 

the tenth is Sensitiveness, pale-toned stone — ^by it 
the fingers of life touch me too suddenly, too sharply, 
too tensely to do me the good they might, 
the eleventh is Doubt, frail opalescent stone — ^by it 
my delight in the sunny Spring wind against my 
cheek is qualified with dubious surprise: by it I 
half-disbelieve in moon and stars and in long country 

The necklace 213 

roads stretched out solitary, lovely, drenched in 


the twelfth is Self-consciousness, blue-and-green 

stone — it robs me of the cooifort and self-respect 

of feeling any motive in me to be un-ulterior. 

the thirteenth is Introspection, beautiful-beautiful 

blue-green stone — it pays for its place in beauty 

but by it I lose the building, the substance, the matter 

of living. 

the fourteenth is Intensity — too vivid vision, too 

vivid taste for some details of life — little hot-looking 

cool-feeling stone — by it I undervalue and overvalue, 

dwell upon surfaces, missing the serene feel and 

possession of precious solidness. 

the fifteenth is Isolation, pale purple stone — it makes 

me feel never at home, never at ease, never belonging 

— a subtle insulation — in this sheltered peopled 


the sixteenth is Bewilderment, mixed-tinted stone — 

by it I wonder what is truth with truth seeming that 

moment fluttering soft-plumed wings at my throat. 

the seventeenth is — it has no name — the Feel-oJ-Me, 

bright blue-green stone, lovely and loathesome — 

by it IVe lost my way, IVe felt all and only Me when 

I might have groped outward, hand and foot, and 

found a wind-swept path to go in: I was always 

blurred by Me, 

214 The necklace 

A small Necklace, all dull gleams and unusual tints, 
strung finely and strongly and beautifully on sl\ining 
gold. The sweet Soul droops like a wilted lily under 
even its slight weight. Strong fine rivets hold it 
firm-clasped and the weight of the two charming 
imitation pendant-stones keep it gracefully in place. 
My loved and lovely Soul has worn it through the 
ages: manacle, shackle. 

How long more — God may know but does not tell me. 
It's only a Necklace. And my Soul is a Soul! 
Even under the frail galling burden of the flesh the 
Soul of me to-morrow could tear off that Necklace 
and crumble it to airless nothing. 
It does not: but could. 

Slyly garbling and cross-purposing 215 


AT rarish intervals comes my Soul to visit me. 
ZJy My Soul is light sheer Being. 
-^ ^ My Soul is hke a young most beautiful 
girl marked and worn by long cycles of time but 
not anyway aged. She comes dressed in something 
like gray-white de-soie muslin or fine-grained crepe 
silk, a loose-belted frock reaching to her ankles. 
My Soul is unmoved by the world and the flesh and 
their feeling, as befits a Soul. She looks on me with 
a chill faery-ish contempt, as also befits a Soul. 
The quality of her contempt is of weary understand- 
ing and is like a caress. 

In the dusk of yesterday came my Soul to visit me — 
a dusk of a deep beauty. The last glow of the sun 
lay along the earth, and all was gentian blue. 
I leaned against my window-pane watching it, and 
beside me sat her Presence. Her Presence makes me 
feel wonderfully gifted: it is mine, this Soul all 
GoIden-Silk and Silken-GoId! 

We talk on many topics, of many things : I in worldly 
nervous ignorance and with a wishfulness to reach 
and compass and know: the Soul with poise and 
surety of attitude, a wearied patience and the chill 
sweet contempt. 
She answers me from her cool old tranquil view- 

2i6 Slyly garbling and cross-purposing 

point, which is near me yet remote. 

We talked last of some bygone persons I have been, 

some shapes she wore. 

Said the Soul: * Early in the sixteenth century you 

were a ragged Russian peasant girl living in ignorance 

and filth in a hut by a swamp-edge. You had parents 

both of whom beat your body black-and-blue from 

your babyhood. And at eighteen you were a 

coarsened hardy wench tending a drove of pigs and 

goats on the sunny steppe. I was there with you as 

presently as now — as sentient, as perceptive. But 

it is a question whether you or the little beasts you 

drove were the more beastly stupid. You and they 

were equal in outer quality, equal in uncleanliness, 

equally covered with vermin.' 

I have no ghost-memory of that time, but as the 

Soul told of it a nascent feeling came on me, as if 

some part of my Mind felt its way back to that. 

I warmed to the thought of the Peasant Girl. I was 

quiescent to her filth and ignorance. 

Said I: *Was she brave and fairly honest?* 

Said the Soul: *You were a ready liar — you lied your 

way out of many a beating. But you were brave 

enough. You faced the roughnesses of your life 

uncringing, and you died game.' 

Said I: 'Howdidldie?' 

Said the Soul: *You were run neatly through the 

Slyly garbling and cross-purposing 217 

body by the short sword of a soldier whose lust- 
desire you had had the hardihood to refuse — and I 
fled away upon the instant.' 

Said I: 'I half-knew it — she died a violent death. 
You — were you glad to be quit of her filthy flesh, 
her surroundings, her ignorance?' 
Said the soul: *GIad? Such things mean nothing 
to me. Your body, be it sweet or foul, has no bear- 
ing on my long journey. Motives — motif — back of 
your human acts make me glad or sorry at leaving 

Said I: *TeII me about a time when I seemed some- 
way fine, humanly fine.' 

Said the Soul: *In London, near the end of the 
seventeenth century, before and during the period 
of the Gordon Riots, you lived in a way of peace. 
From when you were fourteen until you were twenty- 
nine you lived alone with your little lame half-sister 
whom you cared for very devotedly, very tenderly.' 
My little half-sister — Until the Soul spoke of her 
there was no vision, no image like her. Then some- 
thing of me remembered. 

Said I : 'What was she like? Who were our parents?' 
Said the Soul: 'Your mother died at your birth, 
hers at her birth. Your father was hanged at 
Tyburn for forgery. The sister was pale, large-eyed, 
long-haired, crippled from a dislocated shoulder and 

2i8 Slyly garbling and cross-purposing 

hip. When you were twenty-five she was eleven, 
a beautiful frail child. You hved in two rooms above 
a linen-draper's and you supported the two of you 
by weaving and calendering cloths for the shop- 
keeper, and by illuminating missals and manuscripts 
when you could get that work. For a very poor 
wage, but Hving was cheap. All the time you took 
zealous care of your sister. Your heart was bound up 
in her — you adored her.' 

Said I: *I know that. Tell me what we did — how 
we lived — how we loved each other.' 
Said the Soul: *In the summer evenings you often 
walked out along quiet London streets — the sister 
sometimes with a crutch and your arm about her, 
sometimes in a rolling chair, whilst you walked be- 
side her pushing it. Your father had educated you 
in an erratic fashion. You had a deal of desultory 
knowledge — what is called knowledge — and you edu- 
cated the young sister in the same manner. Often 
it was of the poets — Latin, English, Itahan, and of 
histories and sciences and arts — what odd compre- 
hensive bits you knew — that you two talked as you 
sauntered in the bright late Enghsh sunlight. Or 
you talked of the Httle details of your joint life. 
Sometimes you sat together — you holding her close 
in your arms — by a window in your darkening front 
room, and watched the children at play in the com- 

Slyly garbling and cross-purposing 219 

mon opposite, and conversed and were quietly 
happy. You were maternal and the child was a 
mature old-fashioned yet childish innocent child.' 
My little sister — sweet — long gone — Would that I 
had her now! 

Said I: *TeII me what we said.' 
Said the Soul: *You said to her, "Our poverty and 
even our deprivations, dearest, which for your sake 
I feel deeply would not matter, not the least, to me 
if I could see you well and strong." And the child 
replied, "Sweet, just to rest Hke this in your arms 
each twilight makes me rich, rich — as rich as the 
smartest ladies in Piccadilly." And you said, "Rich 
reminds me. Darling, we shall have four extra shil- 
hngs — four bright silver shilhngs — at the end of this 
week from the book-seller. So what shall we pur- 
chase for a treat? There'll be, if you like, prawns 
and crumpets for tea, for days to come — or if my 
Child prefers oranges or pineapples once — " And 
the child replied with her cheeks quite pink at the 
thought, "O Sister-love, let us have the pines, just 
one day, and let us make-believe to be ladies that 
day, and comport ourselves hke ladies, and take 
our tea — all like ladies." And you pressed her close 
to your breast — you both wore caps and kerchiefs 
and stuff-gowns in the fashion of the lower-middle 
artisan class — and showered gentle kisses on her 

220 Slyly garbling and cross-purposing 

cheeks and eyelids, and promised her the pineapples 
and the tea like ladies/ 

I listened to this with vivid still pleasurCo It felt 
like endearing fulfilling life — a day of tenderness — . 
And oddly familiar. 

Said I: *What were we in the habit of having for 
our tea — that prawns and crumpets would make 
us a treat?' 

Said the Soul: *Your tea was chiefly bran-bread 
and cress or perhaps lettuce, with a stone mug of 
milk for the child when you could aff'ord it. The 
London of that day had no luxuries for the poor. 
And having had none you missed none. But the 
populace lived in starveling misery. The rabble rose 
and rallied to the Gordon as it would have to any- 
one who urged it to rioting. You were Protestants 
but you regarded him as a weakling visionary. 
You watched the rioting in the streets with little 
fear, but the linen-draper and all other shop-keepers 
kept barred doors. You two were venturesome and 
were yourselves of the masses, and when the mob 
stormed Newgate prison you both stood watching 
with many other householders on the outskirts of 
the crowd, in terror but secretly half in sympathy. 
You were safe enough from the rioters who were 
intent on wrecking the gaol and freeing the inmates. 
It was characteristic of you as you were then to be 

Slyly garbling and cross-purposing 22 1 

out looking on at a murderous night scene with 
interest, carefully protecting the child from contact 
with the throngs.' 

Said I: 'How long did that life last?' 
Said the Soul: *Four years after that your sister 
changed from her bare little bed to a coffin and you 
went on alone achingly suffering her loss for long 
years. You lived to be seventy, a thin old woman, 
working latterly as one of the night nurses in a 
public hospital. You lived an abstemious outwardly 
self-sacrificing fife and died alone, from hardened 
arteries, one autumn night.' 

Said I : *And was there an informing beauty for you, 
for you and for me, in my life then?' 
Coldly said the Soul: *You were self -centered, for 
all your self-sacrifice. You reckoned it your duty 
to care for your sister. It was also your irresistible 
delight. And after her death you took self-satis- 
faction in self-sacrifice: smug — smug. For me there 
was a laming distortion in it all.' 
Said I: 'Tell me some other life.' 
Said the Soul: 'You were once a little thief in the 
streets of a later London. You picked pockets, 
you stole bits of food in Covent Garden market, 
you pilfered shop-tills, you systematically worked 
the wealthy throngs as they came from the Opera 
at midnight. You were known to the police as the 

222 Slyly garbling and cross-purposing 

cleverest child-thief in London.' 
It warmed my vanity to think of myself as clever 
in so theatric a role as thief. 
Said I: 'How did that life like you?* 
Said the Soul, with a shrug of her delicate shoulders : 
*I had little to do with it and that in a negative way. 
My part in you was to keep up your heart in hungry 
hunted days. You were neither a good thing nor 
a bad thing: perishingly passive. And you were 
dead in a potter's field before your sixteenth birth- 

Said I: 'How did the little Thief look?' 
Said the Soul: *You were sufficiently ugly — an 
undersized form, a gamin face, bastard features.' 
Said I: 'And I daresay ignorant?' 
Said the Soul: 'Ignorant of everything rated useful, 
but wise to the under-sides of human nature and in 
the sordid viciousness of London slums. And 
singularly shrewd — what is called philosophical.' 
Said I: 'Pray tell me another life.' 
Said the Soul: 'An earlier time — Paris, some century 
before the Terror saw you a sHm fille-du-pavey a 
prostitute of a low cheap tj'^pe, but with more brain, 
more of what is termed character than you have 
ever possessed. You had wit, will, esprit, deter- 
mination. From having been at seventeen most 
obscenely of the streets you were at thirty a won- 

Slyly garbling and cross-purposing 223 

derfully grand courtesan: no better in what are 
called morals but possessed of very much inner and 
outer strength and luster. You were chere-aimee to 
men of brain, men of importance to the state, 
whose acts were shaded by your influence. And 
you achieved unusual wealth chiefly by the powers 
and strategies of your character. You lived in the 
extreme of luxury of that time and of your type — 
a delicate luxury, almost high-bred. You were 
wanton in amour, being physically extremely pas- 
sionate, but admirably straightforward and strong 
in each matter and aspect of your life.' 
Said I: *You admired her?' 

Said the Soul: * I was serene and vividly alive within 
you. You were in all ways, simply and completely, 
an honest woman, and for the only time.' 
Said I: *How could she be honest, since she lived 
by exchanging treasure of much personal economic 
value for cheap cheapest gold, trash, and a be- 
smirched name : and all through two sorts of greed?' 
Said the Soul: *You were honest since you made no 
pretense of any kind to yourself. You took no 
gold that you did not logically, humanly or shame- 
fully earn. You were consciously and unconsciously 
above all subterfuge. You wrought no ruin nor 
error nor darkness upon your own spirit or any 
other. You deceived neither yourself nor anyone 

224 Slyly garbling and cross-purposing 

about you. The tone of your life was of sun-shining 
simplicity and cleanness. There was no greed in 
you. You saw your way of life before you and lived 
it without degradation, with a positiveness of 

It is as if my SouFs view and mine were infinitely 
separate from being narrowly paralleled. The por- 
trait was mystically familiar: but not by her light. 
Said I: *Was she beautiful to look at?' 
Said the Soul: *You were beautiful in a pallid saint- 
like French manner — an uncertain type of beauty 
which fatigue or depression turns to plainness. 
You had but little light charm of prettiness. But 
you had what counts for more than beauty: the 
nerve and verve of attractiveness, the force and 
fascination of physical being, the fragrance, the flair 
of the deeply-sexed woman. In one phase you were 
constantly preying and preyed upon, but with high 
valors of attack and endurance.' 
Said I : * Did she live in peace — had she no times of 

Said the Soul: *You had hours of violent bitter 
suffering. Paris has always accepted without coun- 
tenancing the properous cocotte. And often you 
were infamously insulted at street-crossings by 
soldiers and sergeants-de-ville as you drove out in 
your small bright-colored carriage. And you were 

Slyly garbling and cross-purposing 225 

hailed with opprobrious appropriate names by the 
ragged populace as they picked up silver pieces 
which you threw among them. Such things were 
stinging brands and lashes to you. But you bore 
yourself with entire courage. You gave much money 
to churches and charities but looked on such acts 
in yourself rightly as some slight weakness which 
would, however, be of benefit to the starving poor. 
I can not describe — so you could grasp it — the peace, 
the expansion, the freedom for me in that life and 
in that attitude.' 

The exact outlook of the Soul throws over me a 
veil of wistfulness, bewilderness, freedness, lostness 
which hides the material moorings of my life and 
casts me adrift on broad clouded seas. 
Said I : * What was the end of that — how did she die?' 
Said the Soul: *You died exquisitely, of syphilitic 
disorders. You were something past forty, badly 
broken — your looks were gone, your friends were 
gone, your money was not gone but it was of little 
use to you. But you smiled serenely and lived up 
personally and mentally to your smile. A surgeon 
and a fat mustached old woman saw you die in the 
beginning of that bodily rot — ^the just portion of 
the passionate whore — one sweet Spring dawn, with 
birds twittering in green branches outside your 
window and a great gold sun slowly breaking the 

226 Slyly garbling and cross-purposing 

mist. Then for once I left you with reluctance. I 
clung to you. The kiss of me was last on your 
fainting brain and your fast-cooling heart. For I was 
leaving, in an agony of my own, an honest person. 
And I knew not what might be my next petty 

Said I: *What was my next life?' 
Said the Soul: *It was not so petty as were some 
others. You were next — about seventeen-fifty — a 
quaint extremely common little person. You were 
apprenticed as a child to a milliner in Liverpool, 
England. You grew out of that and became a 
dancer in a dingy theatre — a cheap bedraggled life. 
You were a cheap and bedraggled young woman. 
You wore odd gay tawdry frocks, hideous little shoes, 
ragged raveled silk hose, surprising bright bonnets. 
Your mind was a shallow pool filled with tales from 
shilling shockers and penny dreadfuls in which you 
believed implicitly. You were mentally degenerate, 
organically a fool, a wonderful snob. You wanted 
only wealth and place bitterly to deride and browbeat 
the low class to which you belonged — not from lack 
of heart but because you believed it to be the 
proper aristocratic manner. And what you wanted 
in mind you made up in temper. You quarreled, 
you came to blows, with your fellow-dancers in any 
of a half-score of small selfish daily disputes. Clever- 

Slyly garbling and cross-purposing 227 

ness among you consisted in gaining any possible ad- 
vantage over the others and in calhng each other 
names. Also in maneuvering bits of money — as 
much as might be — from unpleasing men who hung 
about the dingy play-house. On holidays you were 
invariably half-drunk.' 
Said I: *And wherein was she not petty?' 
Said the Soul: *You believed in yourself. You had 
not a doubt you belonged in worldly high places but 
were kept down by the malice and depravity of 
human nature, people about you. And you lived 
up to your vulgar ideal of ambition. There was a 
simplicity, an enlightening pathos in you then 
which was lacking in the linen-draper's lodger.' 
In my flawed way I saw that, but objected to the 
bygone Liverpool lady from many an angle. 
Said I : * Had I no life of a sweetness and gentleness 
and with it something that buoyed and bore you on?' 
Said the Soul: * Never once. You were many 
centuries ago a Greek girl of the aristocratic class, 
bred in an intellectual life. You read the philosphers 
in the cool retreats of an olive grove. The mental 
knowledge you have now compared to your learning 
then is a tangle of ignorance. But the Greek girl 
had no heart, no human flame, no active blood of 
personality. Those wanting I starved. The Liver- 
pool dancer in her warming virile vulgarness bore 

228 Slyly garbling and cross-purposing 

me vastly farther on my way. You were a Greek 

woman in a still earlier time — of a type which 

murders all simplicity. Your body and mind were 

haunted by perfervid imagination and both ached 

with the weight of it. You were made of twisted 

fires. I grew in that day: grew burdenedly: grew 


Always those Greek visions are my *half-familiar 

ghosts.' — 

Said 1: *Was I sometime a married woman?' 

Said the Soul: *You were — in four separate ages. 

Which brought you and me singular solitude.' 

Said I: *Was I always woman?' 

Said the Soul : * You were once a young lad of fierce 

temper and were at twenty a madman. And died 

mad. No male body and brain could withstand 

and outface merely the emotional besiegings of you.' 

Said I: *When I went mad, what of you?' 

Said the Soul: *I fell asleep, and knew no rest, but 

dreamed. ' 

Said I: * Of what?' 

Said the Soul: * Things I always dreamed in your 

mad lapses — poetry served very conscious and very 

hot: the material Color of the Sunshine: the musical 

Softness of the Dawns: the pulsing Thoughts in 

Girls' Throats: the Scent of Water- Falls.' 

The Soul has an airless voice which tells her mean- 

Slyly garbling and cross-purposing 229 

ings, beside her words and in their rhythm. 
Said I; *What do you, and how do you, with me 

Said the Soul : * I grow tired with you. Exasperated. 
Desperate. As if I too wore flesh. You are a deathly 
prison, a torture chamber. I turn everywhere and 
nowhere at all. You tire me — you wear me. I wait. 
I stay. Yet I move.' 

She looked lovely, my Soul — and quite in and of this 
bitter-ish lovely world in its bloody bitter wrappings 
of bone and flesh. Around her neck was the Neck- 
lace she wore in all the ages, showing greenish in a 
dusk of gentian blue. — 

All of it slyly garbles and cross-purposes me a little 
bit more than usual. 
I wish I'd been born a Wild Boar. 

230 Not quite voila-tout 



THE clearest lights on persons are small 
salient personal facts and items about 
them and their ways of life. 
To know that a woman is * sensitive' is to have but 
a blurred conception of her as one easily impressed, 
easily hurt. But to know that she wears thick 
union-suitish under-clothes and uncompromising 
cotton stockings is to know much about her: by 
those tokens she is plain : she is stupid : she is smugly 
virtuous: she is poor: she is narrow-thoughted: 
she lacks imagination: she is prosaic: she has a 
defective sense of humor: she is catty: she is *kind*: 
she catches cold: she is a thoroughly good woman. 
To know that a child is 'bright' is to have no definite 
knowledge of the child. But to know she flies into 
rages and bites whisk-brooms, laces and her fragile 
grandmother is to have a wide-beamed far-reaching 
spirit-light upon her. 

That I am * thoughtful' means little or anything or 
nothing: that I love the odor of ink, that I hate the 
stings of conscience, that I never lounge untidily 
about the house or in my room but am always 
* groomed,' — those tell me to myself. 
Here for my enlightening I write a garbled list of my 
items and facts: 

Not quite voila-tout 23 1 

— I never see a soft new yeast-cake without wishing 
to squeeze it for the salubrious feeling of the tinfoil 
bursting facilely and the yeast oozing with its odd 
dry juiciness through my fingers. 
— And I never see a shiny waxy green rubber plant 
without wanting to bite the leaves precisely and dain- 
tily with my sharp teeth. 

— My luncheon each late midday is made of four 
radishes, three crackers and a thin glass of water: 
an anchoretic feast which I eat with relish. The 
rhyme I murmur with it is: *what do you think, 
she lives upon nothing but victuals and drink.' 
— ^Whenever I look out my w^indow at five in the 
afternoon I see a neat nice-looking strange nigger- 
woman walking past. And the nigger-woman glances 
casually up at my window and sees me. We are 
unknown to one another and have belike as much 
and no more in common as if we grew on different 
planets. But the nigger-woman and I are someway 
dimly liking each other and dimly knowing it. 
— I scent my belongings faintly with Houbigant's 
Quelques Violettes perfume. 

— I like to hght a box of matches at a twilight 
window-sill singly and by twos and threes and Httle 
bunches, and hold them till they burn out, and watch 
the little flames, and drop the burnt ends out the 
window: a pastime inherited from my child-self. 

232 Not quite voila-tout 

— Of living creatures that I know I most hate cock- 

— Of inanimate things that I know I most hate a 
loose shutter rattling at night in the wind. 
— While I smoke after-dinner cigarettes down-stairs 
I put flat round black records on a tall red Edison 
phonograph and I curl up in a leather chair in the 
dark to Hsten to the music which is soft and deep: 
*Che Gelida Manina' in a wistful tenor, and 
* Refrain Audacious Tar,' and *Ah Quel Giorno,' 
and * Scenes That are Brightest' and others and 
others — tantalizing, tawdry, artistic, cheaply pleas- 
ant, luring, whatnot. And by turns it makes me 
lighthearted, lightheaded, emotional, romantic, rest- 
less, evilly coarse. It is piquant debauchery. Music 
sweetly poisons me. 

— My bureau-drawers I keep neatly in order — 
lingerie and other articles arranged convenient to 
my hand in white rows and fragrant tidy piles: 
with the exception of the upper left-hand drawer 
which is a bit of terrific snarled chaos. In it is an 
inky handkerchief of an old vintage : in it are several 
un-mated crumpled gloves: in it are some olive-pits: 
in it is an empty sticky hquid cold-cream bottle 
with tufts of eider-down power-puff stuck to it: 
in it is a tangle of smudged ribbons: in it are two 
pieces of pink rock-candy: in it is a spent yellow- 

Not quite voila-tout 233 

silk garter: in it is a torn sponge: in it are blackened 
pieces of chamois-skin: in it is a broken scissors: 
in it are three twisted ragged black-net veils: in it 
is a brass curtain ring: in it is a broken scattered 
string of coral beads: in it is a lump of wax: in it 
is a piece of knotted twine : in it are little bunches of 
cotton- wool : in it is a spilled box of powder whitening 
everything: in it is a spilled box of matches: in it 
is a jet bracelet broken into small pieces: in it is a 
broken hand-mirror: in it are some crushed ciga- 
rettes: in it is a ruined blue plume: in it is a warped 
leather purse : in it is a damaged lump of red finger- 
nail paste: in it is a stick of gum arabic: in it is a 
bisque kewpie defiled by wax, ink, paste, powder 
and rock-candy : in it are some partly melted vestas : 
in it are other bits of rubbish : all in wildest disorder. 
Why I do not empty the drawer and burn the rubbish 
I don't at all know. 

— I sometimes take one or two of the neighborhood 
children to a picture-show. 

— Sometimes as I lean at my window I alternate 
looking at the distant deeply-blue mountains by 
looking at the near-by women who chance to pass on 
the stone pavement below — the smartly-clad and 
lighthearted-seeming ones. I look at their good 
shoulders in pastel-toned silk and at their trim silk 
ankles and proud flaring skirts and insolent beautiful 

234 ^^^ quite voila-tout 

hats — the buoyant worldly insouciance of their 
ensembles — as their owners walk along on happy 
errands. As I look I feel Me to be behind prison 
bars looking out in thin psychic jealousy: regret for 
a time when I also went thus buoyantly on happy 
worldly errands and an odd raging silent impatience 
for a time when I may again. But with it too the 
wavering acquiescence in this analytic-writing mood. 
— * pussy-cat-mieow, ' I ruminate, * can't have any 
milk until her best petticoat's mended with silk.' 
— One kind of man I impatiently scorn is the kind 
that looks bored if I mention Ibsen or ceramics or 
Aztec civilization but is interested instantly, alertly 
if I mention tny garters. Equally I abhor the type 
that begrudges me my own private phases of 
amorousness: not those who condemn me for them: 
not those who disHke them in me: not those who 
deplore them: but who begrudge me them. 
— ^Always I come up a stairway softly. Always I 
close doors softly. I make no noise. 
— ^The quaintest character I have met with in fiction 
is Huckleberry Finn's father, looked at as a father. 
Next in quaintness I place Sally Brass, regarded as a 
human being. 

— I like a glass of very hot water and a dish of 
preserved damson plums on a sultry August day: 
and another of each on top of that: and another 

Not quite voila-tout 235 

of each on top of that. 

— I like the word addle: I hate the word redress. 
I would fain have my * wrongs' ever addled than 
redressed: merely for the word prejudice. 
— I would rather that almost any physical disaster 
should befall me than that I ever achieve an * ab- 
domen.' When an abdomen comes in at the door 
life's romances fly fast out the windows: so it looks 
to me. May death overtake me haply before the 

— ^The pictures I have crowded on a small side-wall 
space two feet from my eyes as I sit at my desk are: 
Theda Bara as Carmen: the late Queen Isabella of 
Spain: Marie Lloyd, loved of the London populace: 
a velvety-looking black-and-orange print of a 
leopard: Blanche Sweet, loveliest of film actors: 
John Keats, a small old print: Ethel Barry more, 
a pencil drawing made by herself: Nell Gwyn, a 
photograph of a Leiy portrait: Watts's 'Hope': 
Stanley Ketchel, dead middle-weight fighter: *Jane 
Eyre' by a Polish artist: Fanny Brawn, the solitary 
extant silhouette print: Ty Cobb: two children: 
Charlotte Corday in the Prison de I'Abbaye: Susan 
B. Anthony: a Chinese lady: Andrea del Sarto: 
Queen Boadicea: and Christy Mathewson. 
— I am old-fashioned in many of my tastes — in all 
my reading and writing tastes. I do not like type- 

236 Not quite voila-tout 

writers: they make fingertips callous in a poor cause. 
And I do not like fountain-pens which someway seem 
suitable only for business-letters, forgeries, book- 
keeping and crude cursory love-letters. I like a 
steel pen in a fat glossy green enameled wood pen- 
holder with a thick pleasant-feeling rubber sheath 
at the lower end. 

— I wear to-day a modest frock of black silk: 
beneath it a light silk petticoat: beneath that a 
white pussy-willow silk * envelope' and a pale 
narrow pink silk shirt chastened by many launder- 
ings: no stays: thick white silk stockings gartered 
above my knees by circles of mild mauve elastic: 
on my feet cross-ribboned bright-buckled black 
shoes: round my neck a jet necklace: — all of it a 
costume that might be of a conventional woman, 
a plain-living woman, a good woman, a well-bred 
woman — saving only that beneath my left shoulder- 
blade the smooth new pussy-willow silk has a jagged 
two-inch rent where it caught on a drawer-handle: 
and the rent — in lieu of neatly mending it with the 
thread and needle of woman's custom — I caught 
up any way by its jagged edges and tied tight in a 
hard vicious heathen knot: the note of spiritual 
fornication, of Mary-Mac-Laneness : always there's 
some involuntary pagan touch to undo me, to arraign 
me, to betray me to God and to myself. 

Not quite voila-tout 237 

— I wear five-and-a-half A-Iast shoes: number 
twenty-one snug whalebone stays: and weigh a 
hundred-twenty-four pounds. 

— I am fond of green peas, baseball and diamond 

— I like violently to spoil a little charlotte-russe with 
a fork: it gives me the same feeling of lawless sweet- 
fiery lust which must belong to a Moslem soldier 
when deflowering a Christian virgin: and harms 

— Sometimes when Tm dressing in the morning I 
glance down through my window and see two 
elderly Butte business men, one a lawyer and one 
a banker, going by on the way to their offices. 
And I wonder at how frightfully respectable they 
look in their tailored clothes and reproachless gloves 
and perfectly celestial-looking hats. I murmur: 
* Robin and Richard were two pretty men who lay 
in bed till the clock struck ten.' 
I keep on my desk a little doll with fluffy skirts, 
blue eyes, pouting lips and curly hair and named 
Little Jane Lee after an adorable child I have seen 
in moving pictures. 

— I am five feet six inches tall in my highish heels: 
— I wear number six gloves: the calf of my leg is a 
shapely thing. 
— The six extant Americans I most admire are 

238 Not quite voila-tout 

Thomas A. Edison, Harriet Monroe, Gertrude Ath- 

erton, Theodore Roosevelt, the remaining Wright 

Brother, and Amy Lowell. 

— I think Yd learn to be a cook, a professional cook, 

if I were less easily fatigued. 

— I love the sound of the cHnking of two clean new 

white clay pipes, one upon the other. 

— I crack nuts with my teeth. 


But not quite voila-tout. 

A damned spider 239 


TO-DAY was one of the To-morrows of en- 
compassing dissatisfaction when this seems 
all a nasty world and a nasty life. 
A Spider drowned in my bath-tub this morning. 
It was one of those long-legged spiders. It was in 
the tub when I went there — a small ovalish dark- 
gray pellet v/ith seven ray-like legs as of an evil 
little sun lying flat on a white desert. It feels 
inconceivable that any creature should naturally 
have an odd number of legs: we are all, including 
spiders, laid out as with rule and compass. Perhaps 
it is inconceivable. But this Spider had seven legs. 
I counted them while I knelt, blue-peignoired, beside 
the tub with my elbows on the edge and watched 
the Spider and waited for it to go away. Whether 
it had lost a leg, or had one too many, or its kind 
is normally made like that: those things I vexedly 
wondered about. In either case it seemed a so 
much worse Spider. It did not go away so I touched 
it gently with an oblong of green soap. Then it 
moved and began to walk up the side of the tub. 
But the side is smooth as glass and always it slipped 
back. I went to my room and fetched a post-card. 
With a post-card newly from Delaware I lifted the 
Spider out of the bath-tub. Then I scaled card and 

240 A damned spider 

Spider to the farthest ceiling corner of the room. 
Then I drew the tub one-third full of tepid water. 
And there floating in it as if brought down by Black 
Art was the seven-legged Spider, drowned and 
ruined. It spoiled the atmosphere and anticipa- 
tion of my morning tub. I shuddered miserably. 
I pulled out the rubber plug and water and Spider 
washed down and away into the dark sewer-wastes 
of Butte, into the bowels of the earth, through the 
gateways of hell, I hope. I took a hasty shower 
with a flavor of long-legged Spiders in it. I dressed, 
and combed and coifed my hair, with the clouded 
thought in me that throughout my life I shall in- 
evitably encounter by eternal law a long-legged 
Spider from time to time. I know there'll be no 
evading it. Those who know statistics doubtless 
could tell me how many Spiders I shall encounter in 
so many or so many years: the exact percentage 
even to the division of a week and the half or the 
quarter of a Spider. There is something discon- 
certing and tragic in the thought. 
The drowned Spider's ghost pursued me all day 
though its memory faded. 

My breakfast, though it included an egg, seemed 
antagonistic, hostile toward me as I ate it. It made 
me melancholy. 
I watched from my back window a slim boy painting 

A damned spider 241 

a porch and singing in incipient tenor a rhythmic 
lullaby beginning *go to sleep my dus-ky ba-by.' 
He painted silently for some minutes and then 
dipped his brush in the tin of paint. Whenever 
he left off painting to dip the brush he sang. Once 
he failed to sing when he dipped the brush but in- 
stead burst forth with it in the midst of painting 
a long mustard streak on his porch. Ordinarily 
that would not have mattered to me since I am 
innately keyed and pitched to expect the galvanically 
unexpected. But to-day it made me rackingly 

In the afternoon I went for a walk. Down and 
down, seventeen squares from here, in a quiet 
neighborhood a strange woman accosted me. She 
was pale and smartly dressed and quite drunk. 
She said, * Listen — can you remember which of these 
corners I was to meet a friend at?* It made me 
feel annoyed and bewildered and sad and silly. 
When I came back I read awhile — a story of Guy 
de Maupassant's about a little dog named Pierrot, 
whose owner loved him much but loved money 
more and could not bring herself to pay a tax of 
eight francs to make Pierrot's existence legal. So 
she threw him into a pit. As heartbreaking a tale 
as even de Maupassant ever wrote. It made all the 
loves in this world feel terrify ingly sordid. It made 

242 A damned spider 

me unhappy. 

Then I found a poetry-book and read about the 

Blessed Damozel leaning out from the gold bar of 

heaven. Always, by her lovehness alone, she stirs 

me to my still depths of tears. But to-day the 

song made me feel over-wrought and life-worn. 

To-night I walked out to a little desert-space west 

of the town, a very pale, very gray desert, with a 

sweet wet mist hke dissolving pearls swathing it. 

The minion placid stars looked down, remote and 

hard, as if each one had newly forsaken me. It 

made me afraid and cold around my heart. 

Here I sit and nothing in all the world is pleasant 

or reassuring. 

That damned Spider. 

To wander and hang and float about 243 



Y damnedest damningest quality is Wavering 

— Wavering — 

I might say I prefer the dawn to the twi- 
light or the twilight to the dawn. 
Neither would be true. 
I love the dawn — I love the twilight. 
What I unconsciously prefer is the long negative 
Wavering space-of-day between the two. 
I might say I prefer heaven to hell or hell to heaven. 
Neither would be true. 

My garbled gyral nature, partaking uneasily of both, 
prefers to wander and hang and float about between 
the two. 

I might say I prefer strength to weakness or weak- 
ness to strength. 
Neither would be true. 

What I prefer is a hellish hovering, an endless tor- 
turing Tenterhook between the two. 
And that Wavering preference is against my will, 
against my reason, against my judgment, against 
my taste and liking — against my life, my welfare, 
my salvation: against the clear lights of my spirit. 
I know I work intently and industriously at the 
articles of my damnation in the Wavering — Waver- 

244 ^o wander and hang and float about 

I know it would be better to die at once : failing that, 

to live but to live positively as a beggar, a whore, 

a thief or a milliner. Knowing that, I know also 

I Waver: I know I shall prefer to Waver: I know 

I shall constantly Waver. 

I am constant — I am remarkably profoundly 

constant — in my Wavering. 

In the morning as I dress I draw on a stocking — 

a long black or white glistening stocking. I know 

I do it only because the mixed big world, which 

refuses to Waver, is pushing — pushing me. I would 

choose if I could — though loathing my choice — to 

stay with my bare foot and my stocking in my hand, 

Wavering. Between drawing it on and pausing 

barefoot. Wavering. I prefer not to draw on the 

stocking: I prefer not to be barefoot: I prefer 

Wavering — Wavering — 

When I'm hungry I choose: not to let food alone: 

not to eat it: to have it by me and Waver, Waver 

emptily. Not to enjoy its anticipation: not to 

contemplate it. No — no! To Waver! I reach and 

take the food because the world in its pushing 

pushes me. 

If the world stopped pushing — 

One reason it will be pleasant to be dead: I can then 

no longer Waver. 

Worms will eat me unwaveringly. Or they may 

To wander and hang and float about 245 

then do the Wavering. But / shall no more pause 

with a bare foot and an empty stocking, a dish of 

food and a gnawing midriff. 

Here I sit as yet, alive and Wavering. 

The Wavering is not the pale cast of thought: it is 

not my way of analysis: it is only Wavering — 

Wavering — 

Wavering is not among the blue-green Stones in my 

antique necklace: not by that name — not as one 


It is a marked and hateful and hellish gift of this 

present Me who house my Soul. 

It is half of this Mary MacLane — who is I — : and 

I know. 

I am constant alone — noticeably tensely constant — 

in my Wavering: and less constant in Wavering 

than in the ghoulish preference. 

An odd and subtle doom. 

246 A thousand kisses 


AMONG my other gifts I own also Wanton- 
ness. In proof of which I am wishing as 
^ I sit here for a Thousand careless kisses: 
eleven o'clock of still evening — a Thousand Kisses. 
A wonderful, wonderful attribute, Wantonness : rich, 
rich luster in the conscious temperament which owns 
it, a Gift-thing delicate and gorgeous. 
By it I want a Thousand Kisses : a Thousand — made 
all of Wantonness. 

Kisses come in differing kinds and only one is 

The kiss of a lover has an intense cosmic use: the 
kiss of a mother is tender fostering food: the kiss 
of a friend is vantage and grace of friendliness: the 
kiss of a child is cool charm of snowflakes and green 
springtime leaves. 

And the kiss of Wantonness is not of use, nor of 
food, nor of gracing vantage, nor of childhood 
charm — but is restless essence of humanness and 
worldliness and mere sheer limitless encompassing 
liking: born of sweet lips, alien it might be, and 
secretly *unattuned,' but warm and fond and 
present: answering the pathos of infinite jejuneness 
which flows, flows always in red human blood. 
Through the race rides a long dread wistfulness, 

A thousand kisses 247 

made of tears and lies and the barbaric distress and 
pitfall of everyday 's journey: a crying wish for a 
cup of warmed drugged sweet ease to turn it all a 
moment away: but a moment away. 
And through all the race is the measureless poetry, 
purling and manthng in its bowl of flesh. Each 
human one is made of the sun, and made of the 
moon, and made of the four winds and the seas and 
the last pink sea-foam on the crests of the twilit 
waves: and made of salt and of sugar and of lone- 
some calling of loons and quick song of skylarks: 
and made of sword-edges and of money and of dolls 
and toys and painted glass: and made of loose 
reckless shuffling of dry autumn leaves, and of nerves 
and of iflusions and of broken food and hesitance: 
and made of Mother-Goose rhymes and of cigarette- 
ashes and of raveled sflk: and made of layers and 
layers of mixed-up passionate colors and of gilded 
cakes and of strawberries and of temperamental 
orgasms and raw silvery onions and gaming and 
dancing and minute-by-minute inconsistency: all 
veiled in a thin gold veil — afl in a thin gold veil. 
Betwixt the wistfulness and the poetry — helas, what 
chance has the human equation, unsought, un- 
warned, unchaflenged of God to be straitly equable! 
No chance. 
Happily no chance. 

248 A thousand kisses 

Thus I, Mary MacLane, so conscious of Me and 

garbledly gifted, want a Thousand Kisses at eleven 

o'clock of a still evening. 

No spirit-hands of Love are laid soft on my drooping | 

shoulders in the passing days: no Love — no Love — 

in all my life. 

No miracle Wonder and Gentleness stirs in and 

against my Heart: my Heart is strangely dead of a 

strange Realness, known and felt but unachieved: — 

no Love — no Love in my life. 

And I can wish for no Love, for the listless Heart 

is listlessly dead. 

I wish instead, in hastening present clock-ticking 

moments, for a Thousand present- warmed Kisses: a 

Thousand in Wanton response to a Wanton 'leven- 


Dominating waving washing warmth of Wantonness, 

compassing me at eleven o'clock. 

A Thousand careless insouciant Kisses: a Thousand 

gorgeous delicate Kisses: a round Thousand. 

From what lips — whose lips — what do I know? — : 

so their Kisses are a Thousand. 

From what lips — what do I care? — : so they be 

eager and live and tenderly false. 

— come some of the Thousand glowing on my pink 

lips, and my white fingers, which were tense, relax — 

— come more of the Thousand, and my rigid hard- 

A thousand kisses 249 

riding thoughts grow drowsy and pliant and negli- 

— come more of the Thousand, and my knees and 
the marrow in my bones are gently aware of most 
logical opiate ease — 

— come more of the Thousand, and my midriff is 
full of cream-and-chocolate casualness and my 
smooth arms are washed down with mists of custom. 
— come more of the Thousand, and my seven senses 
start to melt at the edges — 

— come more of the Thousand, and the palms of 
my hands wax merely pleasant-feeling and the soles 
of my feet fatly comfortable — 
— come the last of the Thousand in a swirling silly 
lovely lightly-insane shower — and I feel exactly like 
a woman in the next street who goes forth clad in 
mustard-and-cerise with a devilish black-and-white 
Valeska-Suratt parasol: and more — much more — 
I feel the way she looks — 

For this Wanton-thing is not amour but psychology: 
in it I am less the maenad than the philosopher: 
less the Cyprian woman than the Muse. 
I am a deeply gifted woman. 

I am not prone on my green couch, frayed, frazzled, 
bowed-down in spirit from a day of frightful stress 
and cross-purpose. 
Instead, hair-triggerishly alive, with definite desire 


250 A thousand kisses 

beating hotly this moment in my throat: the wish 
for Kisses — Kisses far removed from Death and 
Graves and Coffins: Kisses of this present clock- 
tickingness, Kisses useless, meaningless, sweet — oh, 
sweet! — 
— in number, a Thousand: in kind. Wanton. 

A fluttering-moth wish 251 


A WISH that God would come personally to 
see me flutters in my thoughts ever and 
anon like a restless moth. 
I am in a prison-mood and coldly content to be in 
it. For how long content — content is not the word: 
despairingly acquiescent — there's no word to express 
that — I can noway tell. But now I live and breathe 
aloof and strange-mooded. And with it I wish God 
would visit me a moment. 

It is not a strong wish. Yet restless and persistent. 
I want to be free from myself and away, loosed in 
the little broad big narrow World: but first and 
more I want God to visit me. 

I want people again, those away from here who are 
my friends — some glowing-spirited ones who ap- 
preciate my Mind and cater to me: I want, I think, 
a poet to love me with some unobvious madness: 
but first and more I want God to visit me. 
More than I want strength of spirit and flesh, more 
than I want a fat mental peace, more than I want to 
know John Keats in star-spaces: more than I want 
my dream-Child: I want God to visit me. 
More than I wish this appalling tiredness would 
leave me: more than I wish this I write to be a 
realization, a de-Jait portrait of the thin-hidden Me, 

252 A fluttering-moth wish 

my self-expression achieved: more than I want to be 
quit of my two black dresses and back in the wide 
sweet frivol of variegated clothes: I want God to 
visit me. 

God must know all about that. He must have 
known it a long time. He still does not come. 
If he would come and tell me one thing, one certain 
thing, it would be enough. It would show me a 
direction and I could keep on in it by myself. If 
God would tell me even a sheerest matter-of-fact, 
for sure — like What O'CIock by his time it really is: 
that would be a spark from which I could build an 
eternal fire for myself. Forever after I could dis- 
pense with God as a personality. 
I am strangely weak. Strong of will, strong of 
mind, but weak of purpose: damnably, damnedly. 
I shall never be able to write in words one one- 
thousandth of the dramatic drastic weakness which 
is in me. But I hate weakness with so deep and 
strong a hatred, and to know one eternal certain 
thing would be so roundly restful, I could then go 
on: I could vanquish the potent pettinesses which 
beset me. 

I do not want from God a passport, a safe-conduct 
into heaven. I don't want to get into heaven. 
I don't know what it is, but the word has sounds of 
finality, as if all winds, sweet nervous petal-laden 

A fluttering-moth wish 253 

winds, had stopped blowing forever. For cycles 
and centuries to come the Soul of me will be too 
restless to hve where winds can not blow. 
I love the journey: so that only I might have one dim 
torch to go by. I love the pitfalls and ditches — 
all the dangers — black-shaded woods and wolds, 
and lonesome plains and briery paths, and very 
wet swamps, and strong whistling gales which chill 
me: so that I could feel but one tiny bright-bladed 
truth, within and without, pricking and urging me to 
struggle on through it all till I might emerge at last 
like a human being, rather than linger indifferent 
and inanimate like a jaded wood-nymph in drearily 
pleasant spaces. 

254 Twenty inches of ajarness 


GOD might come to visit me on a Monday 
He would come in at the door of my blue- 
white room which had been left about twenty 
inches ajar: for I cannot imagine God, the aloof 
and reticent, opening a shut door to visit anyone. 
It is as if God purposely lacks all initiative. If I 
wish to meet God I must first suflPer deeps of terror 
and passion and loneliness to make the mood that 
wants it. Then I must train my life down to two 
plain frocks. And to crown all my room-door must 
be left ajar on the day he happens to come or he 
will not come in. That seems certain: but for 
twenty inches of ajarness at my door he will not 
come in. 

In it God is quite fair. I do the reaching-out and 
I live out the despairs : he furnishes a fact to go upon : 
I go upon it, in some anguish doubtless: but then 
mine, not God's, are the lights and the translated 
splendor. It is a * gentleman's game' God plays. 
It is because I feel that to be true, more than for 
that he is the Dealer, that I would have a word with 

On a Monday afternoon — 
He might come in the figure of a precise mystic- 

Twenty inches of ajarness 255 

looking little old man, punctilious of dress and man- 
ner like an English duke on the stage. He might 
wear overwhelmingly correct afternoon attire, with 
spats and a monocle on a wide ribbon. It someway 
fills my peculiar trivial concepts of God: mystic- 
seeming because he is the God of the dead dusty 
hosts of Israel, and punctiliously modern because 
he is also the God of new-poeted radium-gifted 
Now. A God like a druid or like Aladdin's genie, 
such as I fancied as a child, or hke Jove or Vulcan, 
would seem an inadequate and unsuitable God. 
What would such a one know of the shape and fashion 
of my two plain dresses, and of my shoes, and my 
breakfasts, and the charmed surface joy in the back 
of a magazine? God, to be God to me, must know 
all those things. 

And if he only bespoke me in thunderous preludes 
touching souls' triumphant apotheoses — bold and 
intolerable ecstasies beyond heaven's last poignantest 
door — it would be nothing to my purpose. Those 
my poet-brain can make for me if I wish. But I'd 
hke God to explain me the little frightful puzzles 
which thrive all around me in the wide daylight 
of this knife-and-fork-ness. 

God might come walking lightly in and perhaps 
seat himself fastidiously in my chastest chair. He 
might cross one knee over the other. He might 

2^6 Twenty inches of ajarness 

adjust his monocle and regard me through it specu- 
latively or sadly or politely-wearily. I should be 
outwardly calm but I might feel an inward panic: 
lest he go away again without having told me a fact. 
I might say to God: *God, if you please, this small 
blue vase on my window-sill — I see it and I touch 
it and I love it — will you tell me, you who know, 
is there a blue vase there or is there no vase?' 
And God might merely glance at the vase through 
his glass and daintily hold his white handkerchief 
crumpled-up in his gray-gloved fingers and might 
merely say: 'Madame, you have eyes with which 
to see the vase and hands with which to touch it 
and sentiments to lend it charm for you, no doubt. 
Then why not let them inform you as to its ac- 

And then I might say, with a weariness equal to 
God's: *My senses are pleasant — they are sweet — 
but they do not inform me, or they inform me 
wrong. Because they don't plainly tell me whether 
it's a Blue Vase of a Blue Shadow — just for that I 
burn in little disconcerting hell-fires, and vulture- 
thoughts with beaks and talons come and tear me 
in the night, and I starve and decay trivially, and 
my life is a flattish ruin and a tasteless darkness and 
a slight shallow death, a death in the sunshine — 
I am fed-up with a sense of death because of pricking 


Twenty inches of ajarness 257 

doubts as to my blue vase*s realness.* 
To which, again, God might reply with his head 
tilted to one side, tranquil and impersonal: *As to 
that, Madame, there may be less death in doubt 
than in certainty about your vase. You might in 
discovering it discover in yourself no right whatever 
to the sunshine — no right to live in it, no right to 
die in it.' 

And I might answer, with some insolent feeling: 
*I should wish to discover the fact about it though it 
proved to me I don't exist and never existed — that 
I'm a dust on a moth's wing, and at that alien — 
not belonging there.' 

Upon which God, for what I know, might only 

In that identity he might shrug-the-shoulders or 
break-the-world with equal omnipotent plausible- 

But I might try again. I might say: *One thing 
feels realer than my blue vase — this blue-and-green 
Necklace which my Soul wears. It is rare and re- 
cherche but my beautiful Soul is very tired from 
wearing it. Will you please unclasp it for me?' 
And God might say, deprecatory: Tray, Madame, 
do you consider what portion of the beauty you 
mention may be in the Necklace? Should I unclasp it 
— it is doubtful whether you would recognize your 

258 Twenty inches of ajarness 

soul without it/ 

To which I might answer, with more insolent feel- 
ing: *I don't know anything of that and I don't 
care for it. I only know I want the Necklace off. 
To wear it makes me languid and frenzied and 
worn — full of wild goaded saneness and the wish 
to go violently mad.' 

And God might answer: 'Permit me to express my 
regrets for those sentiments which, I should add, 
I neither concur in nor refute nor deny nor share.' 
There I might be: conversationally whip-sawed. — 
God is full of works of beauty, serene and miracu- 
lous: Gray Lakes and Blue Mourning Mountains 
and Deserts beneath the Moon. Those have quietly 
ravished me many and many a night and day — and 
will again, and still again, in pacing To-morrows. 
But I can't tell What O'CIock it is by them. And 
if God were by me and I asked him the time the odds 
are all that he would look at the toy-face of my little 
ivory toy-clock, which sets on my desk where I 
can see it myself, and tell me the time by that. 
But though he is thus perplexing he knows the right 
time and could tell me it. 

For that restlessly I wish God would make me one 
brief visit. 

I wish that though he should so godlily baffle me 
and divinely bore me. 

A profoundly delicious idea 259 


IT is nineteen minutes after one on a summer 
night. And if only I felt a bit hungry this 
is what I should wish — spread out on a damask 
cloth before me in a few gold-medalhoned Chinese 
dishes, with no forks or knives : first of all, two thin 
foie-gras sandwiches, four grilled snails and maybe 
a little alligator pear: on top of those, two truffles: 
on top of those, two slim onions: on top of those, 
two thin salted biscuits: on top of those, a bit of 
Camembert cheese: on top of that, two cigarettes: 
on top of all a hollow-stemmed glass of sparkling 

I'm not hungry, but it is comforting to think how 
delightful that supper would taste if I were. Food 
is a so magic rich gusty gift bestowed on the human 
race: and is besides a profoundly delicious Idea. 
I like food better to imagine than even to eat. If 
I were hungry I think I could obtain that chaste 
supper item for item, and eat it: swallow it down 
magic and all, and thus vanquish it magic and all, 
and there an end. So I am glad I am not hungry. 
It is much more delectable to sit here and think 
that if I were — 
ij I were — 
a Hollow-stemmed Glass of Sparkling Burgundy. 

26o A profoundly delicious idea 

two cigarettes. 

a Bit of Camembert Cheese. 

two Thin Salted Biscuits. 

two Slim Onions. 

two TrufHes. 

two Thin Foie-Gras Sandwiches: Four Grilled Snails: 

and maybe a Little Alligator Pear. 

If I were a bit hungry: oh, the idea of a little supper! 

It would then be blestness, benediction — fruit of 

the very garden of Paradise! 

A mountebank^ s cloak 261 


I AM so Clever. I am the Cleverest human being 
I know. 
I have thought my Cleverness an outer quality, 
a mountebank's cloak, and as such not belonging in 
this book of my own self. But there are no outer 
quahties. Everything in and about me is my own 

My Cleverness is of high quality — even supernatural, 
I have thought — and is of unobvious tenors. 
To any essentially false nature, such as mine, a 
quick and positive Cleverness is its needfulest 
resource in coping with this pushing world. To any 
un-sanely sensitive nature such as mine Cleverness 
is its fender against human encounters and on- 

There is no Cleverness in this I write. There is 
writing skill and my dead-feeling genius. But my 
Cleverness is beside those points. 
I use Cleverness when I encounter people. 
Sometimes I like people and wish to impress them. 
Always I am vain and sometimes I wish my vanity 
catered to. 

And I can get from people whatever tribute I choose. 
I mostly choose to bewilder and half-fascinate which 
is easiest: I talk about anything, nothing, everything 

262 A mountebank^ s cloak 

v/ith a tinsel-bright complexity which captures 
average intellects. And even very Clever people 
seem not Clever to me because I feel so exceeding 
Clever to myself. I am a little more intuitive, a 
little falser, a little lightning-quicker than the most 
artistically antic mentalities I have known. 
I am a lady with the ladies, a woman with women, a 
highly intelligent writer with writers, a loosed fish 
with the loose fish: being all the time nothing but 
my own self, unspeakably incongruent. Having 
never found anyone remotely matching me in bar- 
baric and devastating incongruity of nature I use 
in human encounters whatever phase makes the 
occasion most gently befit me. I cater, or I thrill 
some bastard dull brain, or I grow roundly versatile: 
all with a sudden coruscant Cleverness which is not 
in itself any of Me but is my mountebank's scarlet 

But its main cause and reason is not vanity nor a 
fancy for piquant trickery, nor the wish to try my 
superior wings in glowing human atmospheres — 
the preponderant impulse to fly because I can fly. 
It's none of those, but a need of protection, of a 
bright armor to keep other people's superficialities 
from touching me. There's a human effluvium 
which I feel from people which would touch, wrap, 
enclose me in a harsh vapor — a half-froze, half-sting- 

A mountebank's cloak 263 

ing worldly cloud. It hurts with thin cruelness like 
a corroding spray of acid on my skin: unless I send 
out the sudden air of my own Cleverness to keep 
it off and away. 

It is long months since I have encountered people 
with any impulse save hastily to avoid them. But 
if I should meet, with an aggression of mettle and 
mood, some woman or man or little group of human 
sorts (except children of and for whom I have always 
a fear and a respect) I should then suddenly be 
casual and half-fascinating and phosphorescently 
glowing and insolent: being inside me haggard from 
sohtude, wistful from a bereftness and a beauty- 
sense, suffering and lost. 
Ah, I'm notably Clever! 

I write a letter of Clever delicate surprisingness — 
it is the only Clever writing I do. There are twenty 
people, now long outside my life, to whom a Mary- 
Mac-Lane letter is the agreeably- vividest thing that 
could come into a day. The letter, which is an un- 
apparent cater, is not real Me who am someway a 
strong and contemptuous spirit — but instead one 
tinsel facet. And it makes people — people! people! 
— admire and defer to me in a subtlest human aspect: 
an unwilling antagonistic homage. It stays me, 
buoys me for the time. 
I am profoundly Clever in that I who am in reality 

264 A mountebank's cloak 

so futile, so wavering, so sensitively lyingly artistic, 

can still show myself aggressively Clever to other 

persons. I must, being false, be Clever in order to 

get by. 

It is at its best a trickster*s quality: and so much the 

more am I Clever in stretching it out over my shaded 

life like a strong bright cloak-of-mail. 

Just to be Mary MacLane — who am first of all my 

own self! — and get by with it! — how I do that I can 

not quite make out. 

Vm by odds the Cleverest human being I know: 

more than likely one of the Cleverest who ever lived 

in this world. 

A familiar sharp twist 265 


I HAVE — a Broken Heart — 
It is nearly a year now. 
It feels strange to be writing it. What is one's 
Heart? But it is a plain fact of me. 
I have not had a Broken Heart in the years before. 
I have had silly fancies — I have wasted the outer 
tissues of my Heart, and it has been bruised and 
battered. But nothing pierced deep enough to 
break it till this. 

My Broken Heart is the outstanding inner item of 
my life : and it still is a very small thing even in my own 
reckoning. It tortures me minutely all the minutes 
and moments and hours. And yet my all-round life 
moves on beside it and often passes it on the road. 
My Broken Heart contributes nothing, no cause and 
no urge, to the writing of this song of my Soul and 
bones. It rather is a handicap. It makes me sit 
and brood. It makes my eyelids heavy and my 
head droop. It makes my shoulders ache. It makes 
me sit longish half-hours with my head on my lonely 
hands. It fills me with foolish wasting despair. 
Its foolishness is the foremost thing about my 
Broken Heart. It is not a foolishness of worldly 
reasons nor of outer causes but of all the surprising 
folly of myself crowded into my Heart and into that 

266 A familiar sharp twist 

which Broke it. The foolishness would not be so 
noticeable if the Brokenness were not so hideous 
and genuine and actual and matter-of-course. It 
was foolish to lay myself open, who am humanly 
starved, to the possible Breaking of my Heart: 
and doubly foolish to let it be Broken. And being 
left in possession of a Broken Heart I feel it to be a 
triply insanely foolish thing: but complete and 
absolute and natural. 
I am so oddly a fool. 

The proper price for such or such a thing in the 
Market might be one-and-twenty drops of red human 
blood. But I headlongly pay for it one-and-ninety 
drops: each one touched with fire, shot with purple, 
tinctured with hottest spirit-essence. The proper 
payment for Love is to pay back value received — 
which is enough. But I in addition dip my white 
bare foot into red world-and-hell flames by way of 
quixotic bonus. When other persons emerge from 
Love with the old-fashioned accustomed wounds 
and scars I emerge with besides an immensely use- 
less futileiy ruined foot. 

It is wildest foolishness. Not merely folly. Folly 
is something picturesque — a bit romantic. 
I am oddly a fool. It is that consciousness that 
rushes over me with each sad black thought of my 
Broken Heart, 


A familiar sharp twist 267 

My Broken Heart — it feels half-false to myself as 
I write it. And the written words look half-false to 
my eyes. But it is realer than my fingernails: 
than my palms: than my aching left foot. 
My Broken Heart, besides being a triviality is a 
mistake, and will pass in time doubtless, but is long 
about it. 

It is one thing I do not dwell upon in this book of me. 
A Broken Heart is sharply immediate like a newly- 
bitten tongue. It may bleed at a touch. To 
dwell on it connects me strainedly with the world 
around, and the world is really gone from me. 
This book is I as I breathe alone. I cannot write 
in it the silly shadowy Breaking of my Broken Heart. 
This writing is I Just Beneath My Skin. My Broken 
Heart is beneath bones and flesh. And though my 
M.-MacLane heart intact is wildly individual, my 
Broken Heart is merely human: made not alone 
by me and not alone by God. Its place in this I 
write is just outside the margins. 
At times my Broken Heart feels far off while Vm 
feeling it hideous and wan inside my breast. Myself 
is Me, and much of Me had nothing to do with my 
Heart when it Broke: though I loved with all of Me. 
I loved with all of Me one who lives in New York — 
and I lost and lost, all the way. There was mere 
human ordinariness about which I built up a 

268 A familiar sharp twist 

strangely sincere temple-of-grace which I looked 
to see shed light on my life like the new eternal 
beauty of a Day-break. I gave the best I knew to 
it, from the distance, and I lost. The day was a 
little day and broke at last only like my Heart. All 
was broken without so much as clasp-of-hands. 
I am realest, strongest, passionately-sincerest in my 
essential known falseness — 

It was all foolish and petty and someway false but 
I felt foolishly and shudderingly that I could live 
no more. But I am singularly brave from Hfe-Iong 
custom. I have no pleas and surrenderings in me. 
I shudder but live on. 

One Thursday I felt suddenly oppressed and beset 
and something in my throat cried out to the absent 
God to help me and guard me. 
It was something in my throat which shrieked it 
dumbly in the deafening silence in my room. It 
was not I myself: for I am unsuppliant toward every- 
one human and divine though there often come such 

Harder than Thursdays are Fridays and some other 
days when comes a familiar sharp twist beneath my 
chest-bones without the cognizance of my remem- 
bering thoughts: and when though I strive against 
it my Broken Heart makes me sit longish half-hours 
with my head on my hands. 

A dark bright fierce fire 269 


I AM Lonely. I am so Lonely that I can feel 
myself rattle inside my life like one live seed 
in a hollow gourd. 
I am on fire with Loneliness. 

I am living this month alone in this house. The 
solitude is pregnant: Doors and Door-knobs and 
Curtains and Tables have silently come alive in it 
and have taken on identities like those of tamed 
wild beasts. 

I do housework — I dust window-sills and water 
flowers. I gather up newspapers and brush the 
floors with a dust-mop. I wash my dishes. I cook 
my breakfasts. I look out of windows. I linger 
at screen-doors. 

I answer the telephone: I say, 'They're not at home.* 
I change my frock and put on a hat and a cloak and 
gloves and go softly out the door and front gate on 
an errand. 

I meet people on the street whom I know, whom 
I may speak to, whom I may avoid: who may speak 
to me: who may avoid me: for I am at best well 
hated in this Butte. 

I come back again, softly unlock the door and come 
in. I come upstairs, take off the out-door things, 
give a hasty side-glance in my glass and go down- 

270 A dark bright fierce fire 


I read awhile. To-day I read an old-fashioned short 

story whose soft wondrous prose cadences fed my 

senses — the Parable of the Prodigal Son.— for this 

my son was dead and is alive — was lost and is 

found — . 

But I am very restless and cannot read long. 

I am on fire — dark bright fierce fire with Loneliness. 

I move about again from room to room. I look out 

of windows and linger at doors. 

I close my eyes and open my eyes. 

My Soul-and-bones ! I'm afire with Loneliness! 

It is Loneliness not made of the Empty House and 

the tamed wild Door-knobs and Doors and Curtains 

and the Lonely Errands. Those are its small-fruits. 

Itself is my ancient daylight Loneliness dating from 

Three- Years-Old when I first began whisperingly 

analyzing things and finding little hfe-items to be of 

a fierce bitter importance. 

If I were living among people, friendly people, 

then the Loneliness though unchanged would be 

disguised and vested with a padded muffling power — 

false, belike, and a mistake (but everything is false 

and a mistake: only there are wrong mistakes and 

right mistakes) — but made of the world-stuff that 

lets a human being get by in this nervous life. 

But it would be of no use now. I must face Lone- 

A dark bright fierce fire 271 

liness: and outface it. I do, and with no effort: 
for I am Lonelier than Loneliness's self. So it feels. 
This locked-in mood — soon it may be worn down 
and outgrown, and the husks blown away in the 

But may come after it a wilder Loneliness of being 
free, fearfully free: flavored with the heaviness of 
rain at night and draggledness of beggar-women's 
skirts. — 

Meanwhile bright and black among Doors and 
Door-knobs and Curtains and Tables burns the 
fire of this Loneliness with strong, strong flame. 
It is mystic agony. There is no thinking in it. There 
is an utterly irrational wish, an aching yearning for 
people: not people to see, or listen to, or talk to, 
but — humanness I could jeel with familiarity. 
I wish for hands and bodies near me: breath for 
mine faintly to mingle with : the feel of their human 
garments in the room around me: the feel df the 
pulsing blood in their veins remotely vibrant in the 
air: the feel of minds and spirits and throats and 
rich warm virile hair of human heads keeping me 
warmly company. I have heard one may step 
rarefied out of this living-place into the Fourth 
Dimension, where one feels everything without the 
efforts of feeling, and knows everything without the 
weights of knowing. It might be that I grope for 

272 A dark bright fierce fire 

in this black bright anguish. 

Yet I feel rarely rarefied, heavily rarefied, wornly 
rarefied in this living-place where Loneliness burns 
me in strong fire and where I can shake my life 
like a hollow gourd and hear the eerie rattling sound 
I make in it. 

Late ajternoon 273 


CTT night as I slept I dreamed a vivid dream. 
I dreamed it was late afternoon and I was 
locked in a condemned cell, sentenced to die. 
I would be led out and hanged on a gallows the fol- 
lowing morning at day-break. I dreamed I sat 
beneath a narrow window in the cell through which 
shone the light of the waning afternoon. The light 
was very pale, as of sunshine long dead. I dreamed 
I held on my knees a small block of paper which 
had a half-inch blue border at the top to mark a 
perforation, and in my hand I had a red pencil. 
And I dreamed I had cheated the gallows and was 
writing a little ballad about it in sudden rhymes and 
rhythms quite alien to my waking forms. When I 
awoke the song was still beating time in my brain. 
And with my black awake-time pencil I wrote, 
except for two words, the rhyme, title and all, as I 


They'll think when I pass through that door 

To-mbrrow in the dawn, 

ril then be going to my death. 

It's Fve already gone. 

274 Late afternoon 

They'll watch me walk serenely out, 
Still-nerved and somber-eyed, 
*So strong/ they'll say, *to meet her death.* 
To-day it is I died. 

There'll be my pulses quick with life, 
My white sweet throat, my breath: 
But flesh and bone are all will hang. 
This noon I met my death. 

For days I charmedly dwelt on death — 
I raved at death — I swore — 
Till vexedly death waived the date: 
And came this Day-Bejore, 

From being lured with artful thoughts 
My life abortive grew. 
From being broached in livid mood 
My death aborted too. 

To-morrow they'll remark my calm — 
No fuss, no fright, no swoon. 
They'll kill a wench to-morrow dawn 
Was dead to-day at noon. 

Three oddnesses are in that dream: 
that it is true to life in that I in my lightning Mary- 
Mac-Lane-ness would manage to cheat a gallows, 
that it is untrue to life in that instead of writing of 

Late afternoon 275 

it in the true twilit poetry of my own sufficient prose 
I wrote it in the shallow trick-phrasing of rhyme, 
a little serenade to the gibbet. 

that it catches and holds my Shadow-self who lives 
not inside me but Reside me: the resembling dis- 
sembling shadow I cast when I stand between the 
dayhghts of the actual world and the quivering films 
of the region of dreams. — 

My owned mysteries thrive apace. They are poetry 
and beauty and loveliness yet they bruise and batter 
me and split me to atoms. Withal are terrifyingly 
superfluous : they violently kill the wench to-morrow 
dawn who died restfully to-day at noon. 

276 An ancient witch-light 


ALSO I am someway the Lesbian woman. 
ZA It is but one phase — one which slightly 
^ ^ touches each other phase I own. And in 
it I am poetic and imaginative and worldly and 
amorous and gentle and true and strong and weak 
and ardent and shy and sensitive and generous and 
morbid and sweet and fine and false. 
The Lesbian sex-strain as an effect is reckoned a 
prenatal influence — and, as I conceive, it comes also 
of conglomerate incarnations and their reactions and 
flare-backs. Of some thus bestowed it makes strange 
hard hightly emotional indefinably vicious women, 
turbulent and brilliant of mind, mystically over- 
borne, overwrought of heart. They are marvels 
of perverse barbaric energy. They make with men 
varied flinty friendships, but to each other they are 
friends, lovers, victims, preyers, masters, slaves: 
the flawed fruits of one oblique sex-inherence. 
Except two breeds — the stupid and the narrowly 
feline — all women have a touch of the Lesbian: 
an assertion all good non-analytic creatures refute 
with horror, but quite true: there is always the 
poignant intensive personal taste, the flair of inner- 
sex, in the tenderest friendships of women. 
For myself, there is no vice in my Lesbian vein. 

An ancient witch-light 277 

I am too personally fastidious, too temperamentally 
dishonest, too eerily wavering to walk in direct 
repellent roads of vice even in freest moods. There 
is instead a pleasant degeneracy of attitude more 
debauching to my spirit than any mere trivial 
trainant vice would be. And a fascination in it 
tempers my humanness with an evil-feeling power. 
I have lightly kissed and been kissed by Lesbian 
lips in a way which filled my throat with a sudden 
subtle pagan blood-flavored wistfulness, ruinous and 
contraband: breath of bewildering demoniac winds 
smothering mine. 

Lesbian essence is of mental quality. There are 
aggressively endowed women whose minds are so 
bent that they instinctively nurture any element 
in themselves which is blighting and ill-omened and 
calamitous in eff'ect. There are some to which the 
natural inhibition of their own sex is lure and chal- 
lenge. There are some so solitary by destiny and 
growth that the first woman-friend who comes into 
their adolescence with sympathy and understanding 
wins a passionate Lesbian adoration the deeper for 
being unrealized. There are some so roiledly giftedly 
incongruous in trait that they are prone to catch 
and hold any additional twisted shreds afloat in 
human air-currents. 
Each of those influences biases the Mind of me, which 

278 An ancient witch-light 

is none the less a clear- visioned mind which rates no 
thing a truth which it knows to be a lie: though it 
batten on the lie. 

— often here and there around this human world 
the twisted and perverted and strongly false concepts 
are the strong actual working facts and the straight 
road is myth — myth — existent but in visions — 
I don't understand why it*s so: I know it is so. 
Not only so with me: so with millions whose stars 

Not always. But often. — ■ 

The deep-dyed Lesbian woman is a creature whose 
sensibihties are over-balanced: whose imagination 
moves on mad low-flying wings: whose brain is 
good: whose predilections are warped: who lives 
always in unrest: whose inner walls are streaked 
with garish heathen pigments: whose copious love- 
instincts are an odd mixture of mirth, malice and 

Its effects in me who am straight-made in nothing, 
but strongly crooked, is to vivify tenfold or a 
hundredfold or a thousandfold in my shaded vision 
the womanness of any woman whose inner or outer 
beauty arrests and stirs my spirit. 
I see in some woman, some girl, any who attracts 
me — be she a casual acquaintance, or a Victorian 
poet dead fifty years whose poetry and portrait live, 

An ancient witch-light 279 

or an actor in a play, or a sweet-browed friend, or an 
Old Master — I see one such as if all her charm were 
newly painted and placed near me shining wet with 
delicate fresh paint. It is bewitching to look at: 
it has a deep seductive fragrance of smell: it is 
luxuriantly aromatic to all my known senses — 
and two senses unknown float from my deeps and 
rise at it. The Stranger becomes a dearly poignant 
fancy to dream over. My Friend turns into a vivid 
goddess whose fingers and hair I would touch tenderly 
with my lips. 

Because of it a little flame, pale but primal, leaps 
from the flattest details of life. In such a mood- 
adventure a window-shutter blooms: a hair-brush 
glows: a sordid floor has gleams upon it. These 
bewildering frightful beautifulnesses in this life — . 
— withal the same inherence which makes me some- 
way Lesbian makes me the floor of the setting sun 
— strewn with overflowing gold and green vases of 
Fire and Turquoise — a sly and piercing annihilation- 
of-beauty, wonderful devastating to feel — oh, blight- 
ing breaking to feel — oh, deathly lovely to feel! — 
It is the bewitched obliquities that run away with 
me: grind, gnaw, eat my true human heart like 
bright potent vitriol. 

What God means me to do with such gifts and phases 
— I don't and don't understand. I never get any- 

28o An ancient witch-light 

where as I think it out. I don't know shades of 
rights and wrongs since that ancient witch-light has 
found more trueness of human feeling in me than 
has any simplicity my life knows. 
It began, they say, with Sappho and her dreaming 
students in the long-ago vales of Lesbos. It may 
be, I daresay. I know it did not stop there. And 
I know that — Greek, French, Scotch, Indian — Welch 
— Japanese — all women sense its light lyric touch. 
For myself, I know only it is part and parcel in my 
tangled tired coil. 

I don't know whether I am good and sweet in it or 
evil and untoward. 
And I don't care. 

The gray-purple 281 


CLOSE at the east edge of this Butte is a 
barren ridge of Rockies that is sudden 
and big and breathing-looking, barbarously 
personal, touched with varying gifted color-moods 
and glowering morose color-passions: at the south 
the snow-topped Highlands lie long faery solitary 
miles away, caressed at their summits by thin soft 
sun-rings and sun-vapors of salmon and sea-green 
and turquoise and mauve: at the west a gray- 
shadowed desert burns red-gold in the setting sun 
and sleeps in pearl-and-ashen stillness under mid- 
night stars: at the north smaller spurs of the range 
break into foothills and bluffs and gulches, restful 
wastes of lonely stones and blurred radiances of 
tawny sand: on top of all the rarefied air of these 
plateau heights refracts the light into hot dazzling 
prisms at any vagrant flash of sun on a trailing 
storm-fringe. This Butte is capriciously decorated 
with sweet brilliant metallic orgies of color at any 
time, all times, as if by whims of pagan gods lightly 
drunk and lightly mad. 

St. Paul-Minnesota looks a greenlier-prettier town: 
the Arizona Caiion looks vastly more fearfully 
beautiful: Wichita-Kansas probably looks more a 
regular town: Akron-Ohio doubtless looks more 

282 The gray-purple 

Americanly reassuring: Rome- Italy must have a 
more 'settled* look: New York is much larger and 
much brighter-looking. 

Only this Butte looks deeply and exactly like Butte- 

Its insistent charm is that it goes on strongly re- 
sembling itself year after year. 
There is love in me for this Butte. 
I am profoundly lonely in it: my life-tissues are 
long-familiar with the feel of it: its mournful beauty 
has entered like thin punishing iron into my Soul: 
and my love for it is made of those things. For no 
reason I feel love for this Butte. 
As much as for the mountains in their mourning 
intimateness I feel love for all the outsides and sur- 
faces of the town itself: the stone streets full of 
houses and shops and stores and brick walls and 
laundry- wagons and persons, the vacant lots where 
boys play ball: the school-buildings which for 
twenty years have needed the same green grass 
around them and the same playgrounds for school- 
children to play in (and will go on twenty years 
needing them) : the little mines in unexpected mid- 
town blocks with their engines and hoists and 
scaffolds and green coppery dumps: the big mines 
on the Hill busily working day and night, a bristling 
citadel of smoke-stacks and tall buildings above the 

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Food and fire 293 

Victoria WoodhuII, from Paul of Tarsus to Aaron 

Only John Keats stands out alone, a true-breathing 
Poet, an Inmost Heart bleeding outward. 
The lyric poet is the true poet. The lyric poet 
achieves no end in his art. He turns fragments of 
hght and life into terms of beauty and sends them 
flying forth on flaming word-wings which translate 
the smooth human flesh they brush-by into delicious 
flesh-of-gold, flesh-of-petals, flesh-of-fire! But he 
makes no morals, teaches no lessons, finishes nothing. 
It's as it should be. Nothing is finished. The 
mixed world is all unfinished, a glorified Mistake. 
The race is a miflionfold Mistake: lives it, breathes 
it, battens on it — coarsely and finely and lamentably 
and musically and bravely. So that aH poetry 
which wanders from the lyric is only a play or a 
picture or an airship or a cause which aims at Jait- 
accompliy attaining an object: it is limited and man- 
made: its beauty is lopped off like boughs and 
branches after a storm: its wings are chpped. Its 
distanceless spaces, little and large, are visibly 
engineered by mathematic hands. But the lyric 
poetry is the true luminous and bloody interpreting 
of humanness. 

John Keats wrote by the lights of his living and he 
lived all his days in joyous lyric anguish. 

294 Food and fire 

Once he wrote, 'Ever let the Fancy roam, Pleasure 
never is at home.' It is a factful of himself — law- 
less, radical and non-civilized, agleam in the mixed 
world. It is everybody — poets, burglars, nurse- 
maids: everybody. He wrote it in a hundred other 
ways, but it is all in that: it is the lyric epitome of 
every day. Pleasure never is at home. 
And 'Heard melodies are sweet,' he wrote, *but 
those unheard are sweeter — 

There spoke the wild dehcate wiseness of his brain 
and the passionate dehcate wonder of his heart. — 
John Keats! John Keats! 

But everything he wrote, the Grecian Urn itself, 
is immeasurably less lyric than himself writing it 
and being it. 

He is rich bright-wet living lyric for this Me in this 
Now though he has Iain dead in Rome nearly the 
full hundred years. 

My garbled life and my thinking hunger feed upon 

He was the one human one who walked on in the way 
before him: not around the jagged little stones and 
icy httle pools that were in it: but straight on 
through them all, though his lyric feet were quivering 
shuddering sensitive, sensitive beyond knowledge 
of commoner feet that walk around. 
It fattens my leanest self to keep that in my constant 

Food and fire 295 


The thought of his brave radiant loveliness reassures 
me to myself, by the hour. 

I am futile: but he is mysteriously omnipotently 
useful and I catch some of it from him. 
I am half-full of vanity: but he is of a lustrous price- 
less vanity himself that justifies mine and all the 

I am fearing and false: but he is so brave, so true 
to infinite form, that by it he leavens the lump of the 
whole world's mendacious cowardice. 
My brain is full of wilding darknesses, snarled and 
knotted gifts and penchants: but into his strong 
brain the strong fresh yellow rain-washed sun shines 
straight down — through the wide twin-brightness 
of his Eyes. I look down his Eyes — twin pubhc 
wells (he belongs pubhcly and privately to all this 
mixed mad world, and anyone may look! — ) — I look 
into that titanic vibrant brain, and mine catches 
some of it: a blest and precious Disease, oh, a rare 

My Heart — my Heart feels strange and tired and 
dead, a bit of dead-sea fruit: but his heart, warm 
and real and boundlessly unsatisfied, is always 
the deep quick fragrant Rose of this World. 
A Hero! — a Poet-at-arms ! — John Keats! 
*He has outsoared the shadow of our night,' wrote 

296 Food and fire 

that Shelley, and wrote no truer word. 
I have read so many of the strange and splendid 
things — bits of them: Vergil and Homer and Villon 
and Goethe and all the English poets, and prose 
writers like Carlyle who in places out-poet poets, — 
and moderner ones and the new poets, imagists and 
others: John Keats feels a noticeably braver thing, 
and always, always a little way beyond. He is 
purely lyric. 

When he loved a woman he loved the dubious 
fascinating Fanny Brawn — sordid-brained, worldly: 
to him a mixed living devilish-glowing goddess. 
A higher-souled woman would neither have so 
tortured nor so held him. He was purely lyric. 
He cared truly nothing for the verdicts of critics 
and reviewers: and in the sweet-lipped boyish 
beauty of his youth they truly and easily killed him. 
It would be like that — it had to be. He was so 
purely lyric. 

He died in the sweet fierce dazzling cause of Beauty. 
I have so many thoughts and my thoughts are always 
my own. There are endless written thoughts deeper 
than mine — finer, stronger, anything-you-Iike. But 
mine answer for me: no written thoughts affect 
them, though they thrill my reading hours. Only 
John Keats*s thoughts can enter in and crush and 
cripple mine. 

Food and fire 297 

Because everybody is a little bit like John Keats 

I have a starry thin edge of faith inside me. He is 

food for my hunger of thought, fire for my passion 

of life. — John Keats ! 

He is the resurrection and the life. — 

From my desk he gazes at me in a frame of old-goId. 

Every day the sunset on the glass blurs his large 

mournful joyous eyes with strangest agonized sunset 

tears: he shows me the sweet, sweet intoxication of 

his lyric grief. 

He died young, unfinished — and oh, but it's a 

shivering ecstasy to think of all those lyrics in him 

he never wrote! — the sweeter melodies — * Unheard.' 

298 The edge of mist-and-silver 


HIDDEN somewhere in the invisible unused 
air-plateaus is a little Child: mine: who 
has never been born. 
A tenet in me is that a woman by every right and 
by old earthen law should, if she will, have her child 
— should be the warm-winged mother. 
I am a devil and a fantasy, a jezebel and a wanderer 
in fields of inverted fungi: so I seem to me. I do 
not know my status — I but know my personal 
incidents as they happen. But I am also woman: 
a woman by inherence and by fact. Being woman 
I am the potential mother, mother of my Child who 
has not been born. 
I feel myself a fitting mother. 

I am bodily in good health — if not robust yet durable, . 
as a mother should be: I am always tired as if from | 
touches and weights of living as a loving mother ' 
should be: I am warm of blood, latently savage- 
toothed like a jungle-mother, deadlier than the 
male, as a brave mother should be. Though I have 
no child I have an ancient right in my Child, and I 
want my Child. My Child Z5, but has not been^ 
born. Merely to want my Child makes me a fitting 
My Child often is realer to me than books I read 

The edge oj mist-and-silver 299 

and walks I take and the friend who writes me 
frequent letters. 

Sometimes my Child is a soft pink baby smelling of 
rain-water, milk and flowers: lying close to the 
curves of my breasts in the hollow of my arms: 
feeding soft insistent baby hunger and feeding soft 
strong living hunger of my kissing mother-lips — 
More often my Child is a little happy- voiced fellow, 
my small brave boy three years old: he clings to my 
skirt with his sweet tiny hand as we hurry along a 
frosty pavement in an early December morning. 
We live in New York in a little common quiet 
apartment and are gratefully poor, and I work in a 
factory for a little weekly wage for the living of my 
little fellow and me. Every day in the early morning 
we go out to a corner bakery to buy a long crisp 
loaf of French bread for breakfast. And in the 
December morning my heart contracts with a sort 
of happiness and a sort of grief at the sound of little 
feet in stout shoes yet frail shoes pattering-pattering 
gaily along beside me on the frosty flagstones. We 
start out hand-in-hand — his small hand is wonder- 
fully firm and virile— but presently I let go his hand 
as we hurry along, to feel it instantly clutch the 
folds of my work-skirt: it pulls and drags at my 
waistbands and my Heart together with twisted 
sweetness that makes me ache from head to foot. 

300 The edge of mist-and-silver 

'Mother, wait/ he says in his happy voice, *wait 
for me.' But I hurry faster. Always I hurry faster 
when my happy brave httle fellow cries *Wait, 
mother,' for the sweet feel of that dragging at my 
mother-skirt — 

More often my Child is the little girl six years old 
of the shy eyes and the sun-kissed hair and the 
firm child-mouth, full of high temper and strong 
will. All over her is need and demand of her mother 
to guard and adore and cherish her every moment 
of her life. We are together in a country field with 
oak-trees in it, and poplars, and daisies and bluebells 
and other field-flowers, and it is overgrown with long 
coarse fragrant wild grass. The noonday sun is 
bright-hot and I bring my Child there to dry her 
hair, for I have newly washed it with a square of 
white soap and a porcelain bluebird bowl: the feel 
of her small round wilful head was marvelously 
fulfilling in my cupped hands. She wanders around 
in the hot-brightness through the tall grass, gathering 
the hardy scentless field-flowers with her httle 
brown fingers, and she shakes back her beautiful 
thick short damp curls. I sit on a flat stone like a 
Sioux squaw and watch her. The grass brushes her 
bare legs: the magic sun mixed with a faint cool 
breeze plays upon her head: the tragic dehcate 
music of rustling poplar leaves comes down from 

The edge of mist-and-silver 301 

tree-tops and catches her in a fairy song-net. She 
is always very new, very incredible, my Child. 
She looks toward me with her shy radiant eyes and 
she says, * Mother, look, my hair is nearly dry.' 
Her hair is thick and heavy. In my experienced 
subdued mother-wisdom I know it will not be dry 
for an hour. I feel the damp of her hair rheumishly 
keen all over me: a menacingness for me to guard 
her from: a dear anxiety: an ancient mother-note 
in the long human gamut of sounds. 
— it is precious wearing racking colorful romance to 
be her mother: each mother-day holds gold-and- 
blue foreboding: each mother-day holds thin 
insistent gold-and-purple sorrows: each mother- 
day holds deep gold-and-gray care, incessant and 
absolute: an aching wealth of beauty: no more but 
no less than the damp of her hair in the noonday 
field. My Child! — herself incessant and absolute: 
warm pure palpitant gold-of-my-life — 
Someway realer than books I read and walks I 
take my Child clamors to be born. 
My Child will never be born to any other woman. 
While she hovers and flutters on the edge of Mist- 
and-Silver — a border edge — there are ten million 
fertile hot milk-teeming bodies of women each 
ready to gather her in and wrap her in delicate- 
sweet flesh. Ten miflion other children hovering 

302 The edge of mist-and-silver 

on the edge will drop off into the ten million matrix- 
cups — each woman mysteriously a fitting mother 
so only she wants her baby — though she be, besides, 
a thief or a traitor or a weakling or a murderer or a 
harlot or a drunkard or a fool. 

Let them come, the ten million. The chrysalid 
children are clamoring, clamoring always for their 
birth: a wide * melody unheard.' 
But my Child will never drop over the edge to any 
woman but me. She calls with veiled and dazzling 
flames of eagerness for her Birthday: but she will 
await my made-readiness through a long night, 
though it should last till the day-break of another age. 
Dimly I weep for her, my needing-me Child. I weep 
that she must come to this richly-cursed me. But I 
weep more that I have not got her in this sterile 
now, where is flawed passionate wealth of intangible 
life-stuff": but no small round wilful head of hair to 
wash: no little fellow's feet on December flagstones 
and sweet dragging at my skirt: no soft pink-baby 
hunger — 

It is hunger I feel from her. I feel her always 
hungry where she is and I can give her no nourishing 
— no warming /ooc? in all my strange unfertile passing 

It is that less than my empty arms that makes 
blurred unrests and writhings in my Dreaming Womb. 

A right shape and size 303 


SOMETIMES I fancy me married — a re- 
sponsible wife, a housekeeping matron: 
with my window-sills full of potted plants. 
I have a woman quality which seems uxoresque: 
I am someway a Right Shape and Size to be some- 
body's wife. My bodily and astral dimensions 
have outhnes apparently suitable for something in 
the married-woman way. 

The wild piquance of being myself — who but for 
extreme saneness would be mad — rises up and 
smashes that concept. 

But being a Right Shape and Size I involuntarily 
imagine it. 

Fleetingly I imagine a flat in the West Seventies in 
New York, or a bungalow on the Jersey side, or 
a middle-sized house in a middle-sized town in Middle- 
West Illinois — whichever might happen — with me 
set marriedly down in the midst of it like a suitable 
maggot in a suitable nut. Suitableness, diametrically 
opposed to Romance, is its keynote. 
I fancy me walking about my married house mornings 
after breakfast in a neat linen dress and high-heeled 
satin sHppers: snipping dead leaves off my window- 
sill plants, dusting bits of porcelain, giving my maid 
some tame household directions. My Body looks 

304 A right shape and size 

slender and supple and newly-married and in-the- 
drawing in the linen house-dress. The geometric 
gods regard me with immense satisfaction 
as being an exact proved theorem. I go to the 
telephone to order some Little Neck clams and some 
vermouth cocktails for dinner, and a roast and some 
Brussels sprouts and the assemblings of a salad: 
and in it I am ingrainedly domestic, dreadfully 
useful, a strong pillar of the vast good nice world. 
Afternoons I go out to a modiste's to fit a gown, or 
to a mild bridge-party along with other suitable 
women, or to a matinee with a suitable neighbor. 
Everything is perfectly right in my insides and in 
my thoughts: my thoughts run in little troughs 
in which there is no leakage or deviation, thoughts 
of a dreadful niceness, thoughts which ever pre- 
suppose potted plants on my window-sills. 
Evenings I go out with my husband, or sit around 
with my husband, or take leave of him for a few 
hours at the hall door. 

My husband would be the sort of man that is called 
a Good Scout. And he would have married me not 
for my wistfulness or wickedness or weirdness but 
for that I am a proper Shape and Size, with a smooth 
proper covering of flesh, to make a suitable sizable 
wife. And he would be a heavy grapphng anchor 
to hold me fast in an ocean of domesticness. 
Men of the genus Good Scout are all fiercely alike. 

A right shape and size 305 

All women, no matter what their genus, are excep- 
tions to the rule. But men — rich men, poor men, 
beggar-men, thieves: so only they are Good Scouts 
— are of marvelous sameness. It comes from the 
want of minute lifelong pinpricking care of petticoats 
and potted plants — a detailed intensely personal 
sort of pain which touches dull solid tones of in- 
dividuality with vivid various spots of color. 
Men are made in *job lots' like their own cravats. 
Their cravats will differ in texture and color and 
quality and price. But each one is innately necktie. 
Use it as a garter or a tourniquet or a strangler's 
noose : it still is a man's deadly necktie. Its use may 
be ruined but its necktique is deathless. Except 
poets — and perhaps scientists — men are themselves 
like that. They cannot get away from the Adam. 
Nor can women get away from the Eve. But Eve 
was not a type but a somewhat pleasant human 
ensemble. While Adam was a type and a sufficiently 
nasty one: a rotter and a welcher: doubtless the 
Good Scout type of his day. 

A Good Scout is the sort of man who if a woman 
trusts him with one one-hundredth of her heart 
will take the whole heart and twist and batter it: 
and read the paper and smoke his pipe and pay the 
bills: serenely unaware. 

Which is beside the point in this. For in this image 
all my marriedness is a thing of outer Shape and 

3o6 A right shape and size 

Size and Suitableness. The odd but natural sequence 
is that I make an excellent wife. Excellent is the 
word. I keep a neat house with no dust left in the 
corners and no dead leaves on the potted plants. 
My husband is well looked after as to breakfasts and 
dinners and bodily comfort, and I am rigidly square 
with him and chastely true to him. 
If, some dinnertime, as I sit spposite him in a soft 
pretty chiffon gown, my secret thoughts overflow 
their troughs and I passionately forget the potted 
plants and the window-sills and want horribly to 
rise up and bloodily murder my husband for being 
such a Good Scout: that would be a genuinely 
powerless matter, a cobweb trifle, compared with 
my actual potent Shape and Size which are so 
suitable for a wife. 

I make truly and simply an excellent wife. 
— by God and my Soul-and-bones! it would be 
honester, finer, sweeter — more comjortable to be the 
dirty beggar-woman in the wet slippery streets — 
But it's facilely fancied because I am of Right 
Dimensions to be some Good Scout's wife. 
A curious subtly pitfalled world : in it my Shape and 
Size, and my Weight which is also Right, could 
betray me into being an excellent wife: and by that 
a lying chattel, an inexpressibly damaged woman. 

Ice-water, corrosive acid and human breath 307 


I HAVE love for two towns. One is this Butte 
that I tiredly love inside me. And the other 
is New York that I smoothly love with all my 

It is some years — a little lump of years — since I 
have seen New York: and it is two thousand miles 
away. So I see and feel its hard sweet lurid mag- 
netism now ten times sharper than when I lived in it. 
But I felt it sudden and sharp at every turn then. 
A surface emotion which hits one's flesh and spreads 
wide over one's area is more exciting than a spirit 
emotion which pierces inward at one tiny point: 
an ice shower-bath on the white skin is more anguish- 
ing than an ice-water drink down the red throat. 
The spirit emotion lives longer and works more 
damage and buries itself at last in proud shaded 
soul-reserves. The surface emotion stays always on 
the surface and lives actively in the front of one's 
senses and musings. 

The feel of New York is a mixture of ice-water, a 
corrosive acid and human breath sweeping someway 
warmish against one's flesh. 

It is immensely ungentle, New York: immensely 
human: immensely intriguing to all one's selves. 
It is too big to have prejudices and traditions of 

3o8 Ice-water, corrosive acid and human breath 

locality: so it leaves its dwellers free, by ones and 

multitudes, to be human beings. 

In South Bend and Toledo and Beloit and St. Paul 

and all the tight-built inland towns they murder 

you with narrowness and harshness and rancorous 

ill-will: they are scowlingly annoyed with you for 

making them murder you. 

In New York they murder you with a large soft 

wave of indifferent insolence — no annoyance, no 

friction. New York eats you as it eats its dinner, 

rather liking you. 

And my love for New York is made of liking: a 

plaisance of liking. 

made of liking: a plaisance of liking. 

I like New York with a charmed restfulness for 

varied things in it: subways, and Fourth Avenue, 

and the River, and Fifth Avenue on a sunny October 

afternoon, and the statue of Nathan Hale, and old 

cockroachy downtown buildings, and the soft rich 

whelming creamy boiling-chocolate fragrance from 

the Huyler factory in Irving Place. And mostly 

I like it for the people in it — People — Persons — 

People: they are human beings. 

In the inland towns people are half-afraid of 

thoughts, half-afraid of spoken words, half-afraid 

of each other, half-afraid of the fact of being human. 

In New York they are not afraid of any humanness. 

Ice-water, corrosive acid and human breath 309 

Even when they are in themselves craven-cowardly, 
cowardly enough to turn their own stomachs, they 
still turn their humanness unfearfully face-outward 
like upturned faces of a pack of cards. 
An Italian organ-grinder grinding out his loud 
fierce music in a long deep New York side-street is 
a human organ-grinder: he bestows his rasped 
melody widely on everybody in ear-shot, not 
individually — since all around him is a spreading 
world of strangers — but jointly. So it feels-Iike. 
A beggar-woman at a subway-entrance with a 
whine and a dirty face and the deadly black cape 
and chicken-coopish beggar-odor is a human beggar- 
woman. She throws out an inner savor of herself 
like a soiled aura on all collectively who pass her. 
Each-and-all of New York by tolerating and owning 
her partakes of her mean human essence. 
A stout-hearted worn-bodied Jew factory girl 
working at a hard greasy little machine day after 
day gives all New York her bit of young virtue 
which is hardy and heroic and unaware: the whole 
Island of looseness and vice has an equal gift of 
impregnable surprising sordid purity thriving on 
sixes and sevens of poor dollars-a-week. 
All of it is because New York is one Large Condition 
made of human breaths and the worn scrapings of 
tired Youth rather than one large town made of 

3 1 Ice-water y corrosive acid and human breath 

individuals and stone houses. 

And in that is an odd enchantment for me who am 
born and grown in the places of Half-fear with an 
old isolated whole fear always on me. 
In New York I am a partaker of that smooth manna 
of humanness as I am of the air and the sunshine 
and the little black specks of coal-soot: partly from 
choice, partly willy-nilly, partly in the sweeping 
unanalyzable pell-mell-ness of massed human nature. 
And it is in New York I have those strangest things 
of all: human friendships. Not many friendships 
and not of spent familiarities : for I don't like actual 
human beings too much around me. But yet friend- 
ships made of the edges of thoughts and vivid pathos 
and pregnant odds and ends of nervous human 
flesh and fire. 

It is in New York I go to the apartment of a Friend 
at the end of an afternoon. In the apartment are 
some persons having tea, men and women. The 
Friend greets me at the door. She wears maybe 
a dress of thin dark and light silk, shaped in the 
quaint outlandish fashion of the hour. And she has 
shrewd kindly eyes like a Rembrandt portrait, and 
a worn New-York-ish Latin-ish brain and heart 
both of which are made of steel, sparkle and the 
very plain red meat of living. She says, *HeIIo- 
Mary-Mac-Lane, * and clasps my hand, and we 

Ice-watery corrosive acid and human breath 3 1 1 

exchange a glance of no real understanding at all 
but suggesting warmed challenge of personality, 
and an oblique sweet call of depth to depth, and of 
friendship which by mere force of preference and of 
our separate quality and calibre is true rather than 
false. So close and no closer may friendship be. 
And friendship, with-all, is closer than any love. 
It is the closest human beings ever come to meeting. 
In a New York doorway I, made in broad loneliness 
of self, get suddenly companion- warmed at the little 
pleasant twisted fire of someone else. 
It might be so in some other town, even Beloit, 
but it feels only like New York to me. 
I go in the room where the others are and they say, 
* Hello-Mary-Mac-Lane, ' and I drink some tea and 
listen and talk in fragments of half-meanings. And 
I get warmed and half-warmed and cooled and 
slightly scorched in the easeful unevenly-heated 
humanness of the women and men sitting around. 
In the inland towns they throw their thoughts and 
ideas at you at tea-time, inland thoughts and ideas, 
which hit you and then drop off like little pebbles 
and nuts and hard green apples. 
In New York they throw those things in the form 
of long ribbons, heated from being worn next their 
skin, which fly out and wrap around your skin: 
pleasantly or foolishly or fancifully. 

312 Ice-water, corrosive acid and human breath 

The point of it is that nobody is afraid of that. 

It is nothing fulfilling, nothing satisfying. It is 

merely human. It is half-Iyric. 

It reassures me as a person: it makes me feel human 

in all my surfaces. 

Which are harder to humanize, in everybody, than 

any deepest deeps. 

And it is therefore with all my surfaces, smoothly 

and restfully, I love New York. 

Rhythm 313 


NOW and again I think I catch some truth by 
the sweat of its Rhythm. 
Often I read the Beatitudes in the Sermon 
on the Mount and feel their truth in the blood- 
sweating tune of their Rhythm — Rhythm unspeak- 
able and ecstatic. 

The prophet Christ believed himself divine and was 
all Rhythm in his utterances: and so sounds true 
as the scheme of digestion and the laws of hygiene. 
He said, Blessed are they that mourn : for they shall 
be comforted. 

Everybody who has tried it knows that to be true 
with the flawless Rhythmic truth of health and 

Mourn frightfully a day and the next day will be a 
day of soothed warmth and quiet like a grateful 
pitiful heat current in the breast. Mourn a week 
and that will come the week following. Mourn a 
year and the next year will be the year of peace. 
For anguish: peace. For peace: anguish. It never 

The great thing lacking in Christ, the sense of 
humor, permitted his perfect personal Rhythm. 
Humor oddly wants Rhythm. The human race is 
made in Rhythm like its beating heart: but humor 

314 Rhythm 

is an * extra.' Everybody is so full of lies that 
humor, an 'extra/ always wonderfully appetizing 
and out of season, and inexplicably God-given, 
feels like a great keystone of the race. So it is: 
but in a lying race. And Christ in his beautiful 
dual role would lack humor. As a God come among 
the human race to save it, knowing it as he did: his 
measureless worldly wisdom being paramount even 
to his gentleness: his mind and his personal tenor 
could be set only in intense terrific gloom. 
The Rhythm in the Beatitudes is equal Rhythm of 
sense and Rhythm of sound: Rhythm of music and 
Rhythm of meaning. Equally, half and half. 
The most Rhythm thing in it is: Blessed are the pure 
in heart: for they shall see God. 
I feel it soft-prickling just under my skin. Rhythm 
— Rhythm and ecstasy! 

I have read it many times since I was a child : till I know 
it in my brain, in my Soul, in my hands, in my breast, in 
my throat, in my forehead, in my gray eyes, in my ach- 
ing left foot. I know it and feel it by its Rhythm. 
There is barbarous justice in it. It cuts everybody 
off from seeing God. 

Pure in heart I take to mean pure in motive. A 
fool has an equal chance with a philosopher: a harlot 
with a horse-thief: a nasty rag-picker with a small 
sweet child. But none is pure in motive. 
Of other persons I don't judge. But me I know to be 

Rhythm 315 

murderously un-pure of heart. 
If I could open a window or unlock a door with only 
the simple mechanical motive in the act — But I 
can*t. There's a romantic impurity in even the look 
of my hand as it touches the window-sash or the door- 
key. There's a pervasive delicate infusion of impure 
motive all over me. Soul and bones, as I perform the 
act. It is one curse in the Necklace which God him- 
self bestowed on me so long ago. 
It is not my fault that I am un-pure in heart. 
And it is not God's. It is a comfort to me that I 
can reason out that it is not God's fault. He knew 
I needed the Necklace and each blue-green stone in 
it to rhyme and balance me. In the wide surpris- 
ingness of the universe everything will be rhymed and 
balanced. In me, being savagely complex, that bal- 
ancing took a bit of doing: hence my unusual Necklace. 
It comforts me that I can reach that analytic point. 
It leaves me a lightning conviction that God is worth 

And if a day dawns for me when I can open a door 
with no ulterior motive: thinking only of the door 
and the fine small muscular power of smooth hand 
and supple wrist given me to open it: thinking only 
that I want to get the door open: then back of that 
door I know I shall see God! 

It is so written in that barbarous blood-sweating 
worldly Rhythm on the Mount. 

3i6 A prayer-feeling 


SO it is finished: and I have oddly Failed. 
I have slyly Succeeded and oddly Failed in 
equal degree. 
I have Failed because I am too cowardly and too 
weak and too dishonest to write certain bruised and 
self-accusing places in my Soul and in my Heart 
and in my Mind which rightly come in the scope of 
this: there are the Stern and Delicate Voices one 
closes one's ears against: there are the starry grimy 
Actualities one drops from one's hands: there are 
the Thoughts one Does Not Think. Yet and yet: 
they too are in it, hanging cobweb-ish on my wordings 
and colons. 

It is not a strong tale, and that is very well. This 
book is less I-written than it is I-myself. And Just 
Beneath The Skin no person is strong: not Theodore 
Roosevelt, true fearless American: not Bonaparte, 
splendid tyrant: not Joan of Arc, titanic martyr. 
They are strong in their depths and strong on the 
outside. So are many others. So am I, I think. 
But just under the skin all who are human are 
roundly weak. 
Roundly weak, every one. 
And with that, in my case, False. 
This primarily is the picture of one who is made- 

A prayer-feeling 317 

False: False from her fingertips to her innermost 

It is belike because of that that this, as itself, oddly 

It is as if I have made a portrait not of Me, but of a 
Room I have just quitted. My Gloves are left on a 
chair: my Hat is left on a couch: my taken-off 
Shoes are left on the floor: my faint-smelling Hand- 
kerchief is dropped by the door: my round ribboned 
Garter is hanging on the door-knob: my Breath is in 
the air: my Grief is on the walls clinging like smoke: 
my flat Despair is on the petunia-leaves in the win- 
dow: my fragrant Horridness lingers in the curtains. 
I am not there! But I — / have just Quitted that 
Room! — 
Therein I have slyly Succeeded. 

My feeling at my book's-end is a prayer-feeling, 

both frantic and quiet: God have mercy on me I 

but not unless you want to. 

And I feel barbarous and utterly solitary, solitary 

from here to Jericho, solitary from here to the cool stars. 

There comes off the grim gray east hills a soft 

whelming taste of Sunset, bloody and full of human 


And I feel a need of great Pain or great Sin to make 

and break me, Soul and bones. 





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